It fills up the space where poems used to be,
Until there’s no space left. It’s incessant
Phone calls, figuring out money and flights to
Somewhere, nowhere, not knowing what comes next:
There’s nowhere to go, which is the problem
(I think everything’s the problem) taking its toll.
Diane looked at me cross-eyed at lunch and I sunk
Into a depression I recalled from forty years ago:
The constant consciousness of helplessness;
The constant feeling of inevitability, of the anger
At that feeling; of the separateness of persons.
Talk is like drugs, repeating what I said each night
In the morning, and on the phone each afternoon:
A different hospital each time, then the same hospital.
A fear of selfishness, an imperative of self-defense:
These are the boundaries of my life now,
The borderlines of my existence for a while.

“In the midst of life we are in death.” Any
Person’s death diminishes me, and yet the fear of
Death is something one can only face alone.
Poetry is stylized indifference, a drawing back
From the divide between my life and its negation—
Not because it’s empty, but because it’s full, too full,
Full of someone else’s.  Coming home each day
To the message light blinking on the phone,
My heart sinks as I press the button, and the dial tone
Comes as a relief, since I don’t know what to do.
It’s easier in miniature, within the limits of the page,
The confines of a single consciousness, with the drama
All offstage until the phone rings, and it starts again.

Copyright © 2015 by John Koethe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 10, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

I have violence in me, of rage, and of necessity, and my love has none.

When pushed to it I would punch a man, or maybe wield a gun, but I am stopped by his pure disgust.

This is something new in me: I have sometimes wished death, where I hadn’t before.

While I wasn’t looking it left me, some of my tenderness, and in leaving something tensed where it had been.

Like A., praying for the man to get hit by a car who yelled at me so loudly, for so long, followed us to keep yelling.

There is malice in the world, and maybe some of it is ours now.

“Why should I cater to you” he said to me, so loudly, in my white high-waisted shorts and my clogs like my mom’s with my hair piled on top of my head, and this word, “cater,” it made me laugh.

Sometimes a poet can tell when a word is not a speaker’s own.

So that I could stop obsessing about this very possibility, I had practiced a response to yelling, and though I surprised myself by responding in exactly this practiced way of course nothing changed.

Language can be about force instead of relation.

When an experience is not really “about you” you can still be there, experiencing it.

“There are only two kinds of people,” he said, so loudly.

Maybe he’s right: maybe there are those who are violent, or who could be, and those who aren’t.

But the watermelon I bring home is yellow on the inside, and the melon my mother takes from the bin of smooth-rind honeydew is a cantaloupe.

This is not about fruit.

A poet is not inherently good.

It’s about how, at the end of the violence, I still want to know—what did it matter to him?

Copyright © 2023 by S. Brook Corfman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 14, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.