May 1999

David R. Slavitt

David R. Slavitt David R. Slavitt's recent books include: PS3569.L3, his latest collection of poetry, and Get Thee to a Nunnery: Two Shakespearean Novellas. His latest translations are of Solomon Ibn Gabirol's A Crown for the King, and Joćo Pinto Delgado's Poem of Queen Esther.  This is his first appearance in an online magazine.
Readers    Click to hear this poem in RealAudio

The words are easy
enough, and even the thoughts
will come if I call

in the proper way,
neither too modest nor too
much overbearing;

the trick is elsewhere,
in conjuring up somehow
that convivial

group with the taste and
requisite cultivation,
but still the gift of

childish playfulness,
whom I try to imagine,

who may be figments
but can deign, as angels or
ghosts are said to do

sometimes, to put on
rags of the flesh and appear
before us to grace

what in our despair
we suppose is the real (or,
worse, the only) world.



Talent, persistence,
but more than either of these,
luck is what it takes.

And hope? Unless its
fires are banked, it is too much
to bear at these odds.

Still one imagines
schoolchildren with essays to
write, looking up words

and making their notes,
or even, in time to come,
some in search of mere

amusement, their hands,
their eyes, almost at random,
alighting on this,

and finding that, yes,
somehow it speaks in the voice
of an old, close friend.

Sir, madam, I greet
you and presume to send a
bearhug across the

dark gulf of time and
space and the isolation
of each human heart.



They are vivid as
one could want, but then will fade,
a special effect

that leaves you alone,
the pen in your hand pointless—
you feel like a fool,

going on this way,
talking to no one or, worse,
to a hole in space,

an emptiness you
can almost feel in the room
you spend your life in.

That garrulity,
useful when you were young, has
grown burdensome now,

as memorized prayers
must be to one who has lost
his last shred of faith.

At moments of stress—
grief or joy—how does he keep
unbidden words

from burning the tongue
like the stomachs’ reflux that
can torment his nights?

They may yet return
but it won’t be the same: you
no longer trust them,

and that space in the
room will always remain in
the house of your soul.

to top


David R. Slavitt: Poetry
Copyright © 1999 The Cortland Review Issue SevenThe Cortland Review