Trying to Write a Poem While the Couple in the Apartment Overhead Make Love


She’s like a singer straying slowly off key
while trying too hard to remember the words to a song
without words, and her accompanist
is metronomically dead set
to sustain her pitch and tempo, and meanwhile,
under their feathers and springs, under their carpet,
under my own ceiling, I try to go on
making something or other out of nothing
but those missing words, whose rhythm is only
predictable for unpredictable moments
and then erratic, unforeseeable even
at its source where it ought to be abundantly,
even painfully clear. A song is a series of vowels
interrupted and shaped by consonants
and silence, and gifted singers say if you can
pronounce words and remember how to breathe,
you can sing. Although I know some words by heart
and think I know how to breathe (even down here
at work alone) and may be able sometimes
to write some of them down, right now it seems
improbable they’ll have anything much like
the permissive diction, the mounting cadences,
now, or then, or now again the suspended
poise, the drift backward, the surprise
of the suddenly almost soundless catch
of the caught breath, the quick
loss of support
which wasn’t lost at all as it turns out
but found again and even again
somewhere, in midair, far, far above me.

from A Map of the Night; poems (University of Illinois Press, 2008), copyright © 2008 by David Wagoner, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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