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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 "Sir" again.
"Why do your poems give me a headache when I try to understand them?" he asked.
"Do 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 a truth.
" Silence hung in the hall like a heavy fabric.
My own head ached.
"Sir," he yelled.
"Thank you.

Poem by William Matthews
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