“Waiting” by John Herschel

John Herschel


Things don’t happen, they appear.
When I ask for a spoon,
they bring me a fork;
waiting has turned my spoon
into a fork.
The phone rings,
a huge distance between your head
and your other head.
There’s a place in the desert
where people go and shoot their cars,
discovered by De Anza on his perfumed horse.
My step-father in an orange vest
is still directing traffic in my head.
You can drown on the staircase,
you can wait for the desert to arrive.
The sky is a hat that neither covers nor hides.
I have a long conversation with the wall,
the longest lunar eclipse
in 123 years,
an Abyssinian moon that shatters windows.
My sleeve has a long memory.
I change my point of view
from one napkin to another.
My neighbor says
people are polite to the degree
they’re repressing an impulse
to kill you.
Mules are carrying the load
for no reason at all.
The rain in the gutter turns north,
a dog shakes himself in the rain.
It is a world ruled by the god of armored cars
and men in yellow shorts
taking pictures of the sunset.
My other neighbor says
it’s almost as if life were meant to be wasted,
as if you hadn’t lived enough
until you’d wasted your life.
I hear the little voice inside my head:
Hurry up and die, hurry up and die.
But the little voice inside my head
is like that guy in the Midwest
who writes everything down:
5:47 PM, earwax on the phone;
there’s an ant on my wrist.
His life is about three seconds
ahead of his diary.
And it’s beautiful tonight.
Every chance I get
I wish I didn’t have to die.
The plucky dog is still scratching his ear,
the asparagus fern is coming back.
A skunk came into the kitchen
and ate the cat food.
My two cats and I looked at him,
and then we looked at each other.
Now only little thoughts
are running after me,
wanting to be watered
and wanting to be fed,
like a quick tide
that raises and lowers
the level of the glass.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006
Tribute to the Best of Rattle


John Herschel: “If you write poems, even your best friends won’t care. Your enemies might notice, but their attention will inevitably wander. Freedom of speech is also the freedom not to listen. People who think writing poetry is therapeutic are not writing poetry. Maybe more poets have been driven mad by trying to get a line right, than the mad have been driven well by writing a good line. In America we don’t like useless things. Ours is a culture of uplift and good intentions. The pathologically optimistic are suspicious of a poem’s reluctance to sing along. But maybe useless is useful in a world blind to its own impermanence. Anger is probably the only reliable substitute for inspiration, and given what’s happening to this country, everyone should be sublimely inspired.”

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