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New Poem by Stephen Sturgeon

Eyewear is very glad to welcome the American poet Stephen Sturgeon today, with a new poem.  Sturgeon's first collection of poems, Trees of the Twentieth Century, will be published by Dark Sky Books next spring. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Dark Sky Magazine, Harvard Review, Jacket and other journals. He edits Fulcrum: an Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics.

Epistola Cantabrigiensis
(Over an Old Copy of Enemies of Promise)

I thought I saw you on Arrow Street, rippling
like an infant scarecrow’s burnt-orange rags
or tight in a green-striped sailor’s shirt, cocking
your head side to side against the tearing flyers
stapled onto any wooden things. I may have been unawake,

holding an imaginary and heavy orb in my hand,
because nothing rests there. I do not think so.
Going between two places, I never want to arrive,
and would rather go on perpetually a passenger, passing
through spicy air and scenes of acquaintances spatting,
whose fight, though meaningless, is the only thing.
Or, it would mean as much as anything else,
your alien capacity to void senescence,
my ripped shoes welcoming the mud. Constantly there is this motor
running itself nearly to cataclysm around my ears.

The fact of ears reminds one so deliriously of death, eventualities
come to look the same, parallel lines that meet the way
a pair of hands does, clapping out of the nightmare.
Why should there be a place to go?
Thinking about the UCL variants for The Princess,
I know it is a world of hollow shows;
thinking about Dublin I know this life
is a warm fullblooded life; and I am happy to say
more than ever these have been pitted in a long bout
where neither wins, and they come to exist simultaneously
inside each other, like Balthus and Hogarth—
there is nothing more important than the spot of weakness
that makes good things work. A hatch-door hinge opens
a basement where aquariums splashing with bright fish
are found alongside a poster of Marilyn Monroe
touching her footsole to her knee. You know these,
remember them, tying your white V-neck to the Maple trunk
across the street, leaving, and leaving the rest to the city.

City buses are crashing
and I can’t hear Murray Perahia. That is part of the ordeal,
having to make up sounds for the music
that sputters beneath melee, and making the two
play inside each other, like the paintings before,
like Marilyn and the fish, like your field rags and sailor-suit.
What a pain in the neck for people who need to be amazed
and need to keep the electricity paid. Isn’t it enough
that Lame Duck Books is closing down? Talk with old friends
is the most pleasant and least enlightening kind of dialogue.
The contours of their minds are already familiar, a well-known scene
which one accepts and loves. Erasmus would erase us.

And standing in front of the Cummings house you can’t see anything.
A big grey fence and pines that were not growing
when Estlin was growing and drooling rhymes
about elephants, which his mother folded away
as if they had been funeral lilies or Easter cards.
They did a fine job of work killing all the old things
we’d like to see now, I suppose in the 60s and 70s
when old things were popularly bad and everyone believed
they were going mad, and they wrote about nothing else,
though they were wrong. Squinting, one might conjure
Scofield Thayer breaking his head on the slats,
crazing after his abducted and indifferent wife.

I don’t care that life will end in an explosion of guilt and cancer.
Criticism is rarely not for clowns. Things I want are against the law.
To accommodate the drifting particulars, the unexpected sense
piping out of dead buildings and ruined families, there will be
another strain of this science to learn. As luck will have it,
there will not be a place to go. For the moment
on Arrow Street I thought I saw you. The day was about travel,
guideless and apparent, and the hour-bells struck until no time was left.

poem by Stephen Sturgeon
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