I’m afraid I can’t go anywhere without stacks of books, boxes in the trunk, a book bag over my shoulder—wherever I sit, more within reach, just to sample a stanza, line, or word, someone’s invocation to the color blue, another’s wandering of fields and grief; and some have died I can’t bear losing; in the produce aisle I hear Rilke crying out, wondering who is listening. I am! When I touch the artichoke, Neruda’s ode has guided me. I want to reach inside the glove compartment, hand the cop the poems of Simic so that—parked in an alleyway, on break—he’ll hear the voice of an insomnia, the terror of quiet sounds, how the Infinite is a dandelion carried through bomb-embattled streets. I’m not deranged, though like Thoreau I want to redefine economy so that an insight has more weight than gold. Why not, at the high school football game, read aloud a Saramago sentence with all its interruptions, feints, and secret passageways, its wanderings downfield, its ravings at the sky gone dark past the stadium lights. Proust has something more to say. A treatise on the mourning dove? Of course. Why not. So be it. Another failed peace treaty, another scandal involving high-ranking officials—who learns from Tranströmer to see the sphinx from behind? So much hollowness we’re carrying when sometimes thoughts can soar. So much space between Sappho’s words in order to make us whole. I enter the courtroom with Issa, whose grievances were many but laid aside; because of his presence I cast my vote for the spider clinging to the third-floor window; I forgive the bailiff the order he keeps. The judge, with his gavel, makes a haiku of sound. Is this my own existence, or have I found myself in others’ lives and they in mine? If I’m only myself, I ask a little help to get from who I am to something more than broken, something more than nothing less than these my only questions—oh Kafka, what is this weight upon me, enormous, flailing to touch all the corners of air?
Copyright © 2017 Jeff Hardin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.