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About this Poem 

“We are surrounded on all sides by the persistence of death and its implications. One could argue, as many have done, that all that we do is a compensation for this fact, including writing a poem.”

—Major Jackson

On Disappearing

Major Jackson, 1968

I have not disappeared.
The boulevard is full of my steps. The sky is
full of my thinking. An archbishop
prays for my soul, even though
we only met once, and even then, he was
busy waving at a congregation.
The ticking clocks in Vermont sway

back and forth as though sweeping
up my eyes and my tattoos and my metaphors,
and what comes up are the great paragraphs
of dust, which also carry motes
of my existence. I have not disappeared.
My wife quivers inside a kiss.
My pulse was given to her many times,

in many countries. The chunks of bread we dip
in olive oil is communion with our ancestors,
who also have not disappeared. Their delicate songs
I wear on my eyelids. Their smiles have
given me freedom which is a crater
I keep falling in. When I bite into the two halves
of an orange whose cross-section resembles my lungs,

a delta of juices burst down my chin, and like magic,
makes me appear to those who think I’ve
disappeared. It’s too bad war makes people
disappear like chess pieces, and that prisons
turn prisoners into movie endings. When I fade
into the mountains on a forest trail,
I still have not disappeared, even though its green facade
turns my arms and legs into branches of oak.
It is then I belong to a southerly wind,
which by now you have mistaken as me nodding back
and forth like a Hasid in prayer or a mother who has just
lost her son to gunfire in Detroit. I have not disappeared.

In my children, I see my bulging face
pressing further into the mysteries.

In a library in Tucson, on a plane above
Buenos Aires, on a field where nearby burns
a controlled fire, I am held by a professor,
a General, and a photographer.
One burns a finely wrapped cigar, then sniffs
the scented pages of my books, scouring
for the bitter smell of control.
I hold him in my mind like a chalice.
I have not disappeared. I swish the amber
hue of lager on my tongue and ponder the drilling
rigs in the Gulf of Alaska and all the oil-painted plovers.

When we talk about limits, we disappear.
In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel.

I am a shrug of a life in sacred language.
Right now: termites toil over a grave.
My mind is a ravine of yesterdays.
At a glance from across the room, I wear
September on my face,
which is eternal, and does not disappear
even if you close your eyes once and for all
simultaneously like two coffins.
 

Copyright © 2013 by Major Jackson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Major Jackson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Major Jackson

Major Jackson

Major Jackson was born and raised in Philadelphia, where he pursued his degree in accounting at Temple University.

In the late 1990s, he joined the Dark Room Collective, an organization that gave greater visibility to emerging and established writers of color and included Thomas Sayers Ellis, John Keene, Janice Lowe, Carl Phillips, Tracy K. Smith, Sharan Strange, Natasha Trethewey, Artress Bethany White, and Kevin Young, among others.

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I'm glum about your sportive flesh in the empire of blab,
and the latest guy running his trendy tongue like a tantalizing surge
over your molars, how droll. Love by a graveyard is redundant,
but the skin is an obstacle course like Miami where we are 
inescapably consigned: tourists keeping the views new.
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          1.

When you have forgotten (to bring into 
   Play that fragrant morsel of rhetoric, 
Crisp as autumnal air), when you 
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   Full of skyline, rowhomes, smokestacks, 
Billboards, littered rooftops & wondered 
What bread wrappers reflect of our hunger
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