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The Difficulty of Being Oneself and Other Poems

in Poetry by

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Every morning a new word escapes me,
its meaning defined only
by the light between morning and now
that sinks down into soil,
boxed and stored in magma
and subterranean channels.

I don’t have the vocal mechanism
to pronounce this word that seems
meant for someone else, and who might not
be human after all, and who would
be condemned for uttering it, perhaps sent
to live in an abandoned steel mill.

I try to shape my tongue to accommodate it
by placing a sugar cube in my mouth,
though no amount can sweeten the losses.

In my backpack, I carry a thesaurus,
looking always for the alternative,
that other word that carries time’s texture,
the slow drift of departure, this light, sprinkled
over the sidewalks of each day, seasoning
meanings that will only unlock
when I’m wide awake and eat my words.

The Difficulty of Being Oneself

“Cirrus clouds – wispy, long formations that almost look like smoke – are particularly problematic to define. As these clouds taper off into nothingness, scientists often struggle to define the point at which they cease to be clouds.”
—University of Wisconsin-Madison News, December 5, 2005
Scientists Seek Clear-Sky Definition of Clouds, by Paroma Basu

These great connoisseurs of ambiguity
defy even scientists to trace the border
of their country. Confusing their existence
with the sky, they evade us by simply being there.

Their smoldering insinuates every earthly object
down to the lump of clay they take their name from,
as if the ice blistering into those surges of crystal
were a recollection of solidity, of feet crunching gravel,

of having been a man with a need to comprehend
his own limits. Maybe that’s why they dispense
with the illusion of being remembered, and when heaviest
with being themselves, dark and thick with water,

they drop everything in reckless generosity.
So let’s not praise their height or graceful drift
but the depth to which their philanthropy digs,
their glory flowering in the phlox and lavender.

Landmarks

There is properly no history; only biography.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

My math teacher entered the room saying
the space shuttle Challenger had exploded.

The history class was hushed and TV snapped on.
I remember watching a fissure of fire spark

and then two booster rockets forking into the sky,
stabbing at the blue, right when I realized
this would be in my children’s history books,
unlike their grandfather’s death twelve years later

and before their birth, when he lay in his living room
on a cot, the lung cancer forking out into his body,

taking over the brain, kidneys and liver,
and his quiet awe in the face of the countdown,

saying, I wonder how much longer it will be now,
his last breath leaving a footnote just for me, who sat

a state away on the 23rd floor of a corporate office,
a footnote that read, “Don’t cancel your trip to Venice.”

History’s Footnotes

Does anyone remember the name of Lot’s wife?
A certain Hebrew tradition says it was Edith,
though it’s not in the standard texts,
and even the esoteric don’t use it.

No matter who talks about her, it’s always,
Lot’s wife, someone only known
by her reference to someone else,
like a footnote in a history book that documents
how 6 people died in an anarchist bombing,
but without naming one of them.
Maybe Edith liked history and heavily salted foods,
and would have enjoyed the irony
of being turned into a common preservative,
though not the bitter one of being someone
whose name was forgotten just because
she made the mistake of all those wishing to remember.

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Michael T. Young's fourth collection, The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost, was published by Poets Wear Prada. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the 2014 Jean Pedrick Award from the New England Poetry Club. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Chaffin Poetry Award. His work has appeared in numerous journals including Edison Literary Review, The Louisville Review, Off the Coast, The Potomac Review, and The Raintown Review. His work is also in the anthologies Phoenix Rising, Chance of a Ghost and Rabbit Ears: TV Poems. He lives with my wife, children, and cats in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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