March 26, 2010

David Wagoner


It was good for the alphabet, for the facts of arithmetic,
and the capitals of states. They froze into place somewhere
behind a piece of his mind. In speech class and debate
his mind’s eye reproduced whole streams of words
that had rattled out of the mouths of orators,
but not exactly by heart. That was for poems.

He could memorize any lyrics, no matter how bad,
with the ease of a quick study shaking backstage
and later could remember the names of the faces
of students arranged in rows of rows and call them
back to be recognized or counted absent.

He could think, even think and think and then rename
and remember what it was he should have done
when he hadn’t done anything in forgettable moments
like this one now. We are gathered here to pay
our last respects to an absentee, whose name
you can find somewhere in your programs. He had something
to do and apparently did it or we wouldn’t be here.

I’m speaking now to some memorable purpose
or other, and you, on yours, are sitting there.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009