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Paul Guest

Paul Guest was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and holds a BA from the University of Tennessee and an MFA from Southern Illinois University. He is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Because Everything Is Terrible (Diode Editions, 2018). His first collection, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2003), was awarded the 2002 New Issues Poetry Prize. Notes for My Body Double (Bison Books, 2007) was awarded the 2006 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. 

Of his poems, poet Bruce Smith says, "They meditate, they hover, they extract the juice from the fractured self, they create a taxonomy of lost things."

Guest is also the author of the memoir One More Theory About Happiness (Ecco Press, 2010), which was selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. A Guggenheim fellow and Whiting Award winner, Guest is the Poem-a-Day Guest Editor in July 2019. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Bibliography

Poetry
Because Everything Is Terrible (Diode Editions, 2018)
My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (Ecco Press, 2008)
Notes for My Body Double (Bison Books, 2007)
The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2003)

Memoir
One More Theory About Happiness (Ecco Press, 2010)

 

By This Poet

4

On the Persistence of the Letter as a Form

Dear murderous world, dear gawking heart,
I never wrote back to you, not one word

wrenched itself free of my fog-draped mind
to dab in ink the day's dull catalog

of ruin. Take back the ten-speed bike
which bent like a child's cheap toy

beneath me. Accept as your own
the guitar that was smashed over my brother,

who writes now from jail in Savannah,
who I cannot begin to answer. Here

is the beloved pet who died at my feet 
and there, outside my window,

is where my mother buried it in a coffin
meant for a newborn. Upon

my family, raw and vigilant, visit numbness.
Of numbness I know enough.

And to you I've now written too much,
dear cloud of thalidomide,

dear spoon trembling at the mouth,
dear marble-eyed doll never answering back.

User's Guide to Physical Debilitation

Should the painful condition of irreversible paralysis
last longer than forever or at least until
your death by bowling ball or illegal lawn dart
or the culture of death, which really has it out
for whoever has seen better days
but still enjoys bruising marathons of bird watching,
you, or your beleaguered caregiver
stirring dark witch's brews of resentment
inside what had been her happy life,
should turn to page seven where you can learn,
assuming higher cognitive functions
were not pureed by your selfish misfortune,
how to leave the house for the first time in two years.
An important first step,
with apologies for the thoughtlessly thoughtless metaphor.
When not an outright impossibility
or form of neurological science fiction,
sexual congress will either be with
tourists in the kingdom of your tragedy,
performing an act of sadistic charity;
with the curious, for whom you will be beguilingly blank canvas;
or with someone blindly feeling their way
through an extended power outage
caused by summer storms you once thought romantic.
Page twelve instructs you how best
to be inspiring to Magnus next door
as he throws old Volkswagens into orbit
above Alberta. And to Betty
in her dark charm confiding a misery,
whatever it is, that to her seems equivalent to yours.
The curl of her hair that her finger knows
better and beyond what you will,
even in the hypothesis of heaven
when you sleep. This guide is intended
to prepare you for falling down
and declaring détente with gravity,
else you reach the inevitable end
of scaring small children by your presence alone.
Someone once said of crushing
helplessness: it is a good idea to avoid that.
We agree with that wisdom
but gleaming motorcycles are hard
to turn down or safely stop
at speeds which melt aluminum. Of special note
are sections regarding faith
healing, self-loathing, abstract hobbies
like theoretical spelunking and extreme atrophy,
and what to say to loved ones
who won't stop shrieking
at Christmas dinner. New to this edition
is an index of important terms
such as catheter, pain, blackout,
pathological deltoid obsession, escort service,
magnetic resonance imaging,
loss of friends due to superstitious fear,
and, of course, amputation
above the knee due to pernicious gangrene.
It is our hope that this guide
will be a valuable resource
during this long stretch of boredom and dread
and that it may be of some help,
however small, to cope with your new life
and the gradual, bittersweet loss
of every God damned thing you ever loved.

Post-Factual Love Poem

I’m thinking of the boiling sea
and the dream in which
all the fish were singing.
I want to wake up with my heart
not aching like death,
but I am always falling
in to terror. I’m a good person.
I grieve to appropriate degrees.
I mourn this season. This moment.
I mourn for the polar bear
drifting out of history
on a wedge of melting ice.
For the doughnut shop
which reached an end
yesterday, after decades and decades.
I’m thinking of the light
at dawn. Of the woman
in Alabama who ordered
six songbirds from a catalog because
she was lonely. Or
heartbroken. I’m thinking
of the four that came
dead in the box, mangled.
Of the two that are
missing. I want to tell you
that they were spotted
in the humid air
winging above a mall.
I want to tell you a story
about the time leaves fell from
the trees all at once. I am
thinking of cataclysm.
More than anything, I want to tell you
this. I want to disappear
in the night. I want
the night to vanish from memory.
I want to tell you
how this happened.