Contract: Lines Written to Present to a Living Audience

Are we all doing what we are supposed to be doing?
I am standing here before you
reading this poem off a sheet of 50-pound
recycled paper that is printed with words I wrote
several months ago on a night in September, 2009.
It was a Saturday night, and I had worked on proofing
some of my own poems on the computer, and had answered
some e-mails. My wife and I watched TV
that afternoon to see the Nebraska Cornhuskers
ridiculously lose a game of football they were winning
to the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Also that day in Omaha there were two murders
an hour apart from each other, but the news
of the game and of even the weather took precedence
over two human beings being killed in Omaha.
Anyway, here I am reading this poem to you
and there you are listening to me
as if I were a person who knows something
of life, who has a secret to understanding
that you don’t have, or that you know
you do have but sometimes feel or think
that you don’t know how to express.
I know that sometimes you just want to scream
at the person standing in front of you
reading words that he or she has written
some months ago and then typed up
onto a computer to read to you today
“Shut up! You’re making me crazy
with all your BS, your assumed airs,
your silly stories about your stupid life!”
If that is what you are thinking, as I am sure
some of you are, then allow me to extend
to you my apologies, or maybe even my
hand, as if we were all of us in this room
shipwrecked, lost on a dark sea
in the middle of our lives, all the old certainties
now no longer worth anything. Let me
give my hand to you and pull you up
onto the shore of my certainty, my belief
that these words here on this page are real
though I wrote them months and months ago,
possibly even years, and that I know
nothing more than you do about survival
at sea or in anything at all for that matter,
not life in general or in board meetings
in particular, nor in making love, nor
in cooking up an egg the right way, nor in raising
up children. All I know how to do
is to keep writing these words down on the page
that stay behind me like tracks I have left
coming out of the jungle, though I have never been
in a jungle, coming out of a desert though I
have only been in a desert to gamble or urinate
beside an ancient Joshua tree,
though I know no more about mountains
than what I have learned about them from a few
hours of staying in them, a few brief walks,
and for all the rest what little I know of the world
comes from images in books and words
in books, just like the desert, or the ocean,
or even the Great Plains where I grew up,
or love, or hate, or Nepal or situational ethics.
It’s all been only a little bit of actual
pressing of my face against a rock, or my fingers
in the cracks between the bricks and mortar of a building
or on the flesh of another person’s thigh.
Oh I know that I have literally seen
spiders weaving their webs, and I have seen
a dog take a crap on a lawn more than once,
and I have seen two squirrels going at it
in my driveway and even a few animals other places,
and I have looked up at the night sky
to see more stars that I could comprehend
knowing that our culture’s number system in relation
to the universe is like the tribesmen’s
they found in ancient villages whose number systems
were: One, and everything greater than one—
but maybe those stone-age guys are onto it,
maybe they know what I do not
and you may not—you see, I can’t even
know that about you—that we only
learn through our bodies,
and if I reach out my hand here today
to you where you float on that little piece
of flotsam or jetsam you call your life
you can actually touch it
my brothers, my sisters, my fathers and mothers
who are all out there at the tangled ends
of these lines that looked like barbed wire
the night that I wrote them in my crabbed hand
that look like the lines of communication
we must keep open, that look like
the earth opening up and drawing us back in
that go out from me and into you
into that unbridgeable bridgeable space between us,
the synapse of the poem.

 

 

 

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