A Poetry Reading At West Point
I read to the entire plebe class,
in two batches.
Twice the hall filled
with bodies dressed alike, each toting
a copy of my book.
What would my
shrink say, if I had one, about
such a dream, if it were a dream?
Question and answer time.
"Sir," a cadet yelled from the balcony,
and gave his name and rank, and then,
closing his parentheses, yelled
"Why do your poems give
me a headache when I try
to understand them?" he asked.
you want that?" I have a gift for
gentle jokes to defuse tension,
but this was not the time to use it.
"I try to write as well as I can
what it feels like to be human,"
I started, picking my way care-
fully, for he and I were, after
all, pained by the same dumb longings.
"I try to say what I don't know
how to say, but of course I can't
get much of it down at all.
By now I was sweating bullets.
"I don't want my poems to be hard,
unless the truth is, if there is
" Silence hung in the hall
like a heavy fabric.
"Sir," he yelled.
by William Matthews
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