How We Lived On It (54) – “Scrabble with Matthews”


The kind of poetic conceit etymologicon that delights in the service of deep feeling.

Scrabble with Matthews


(Poetry magazine October 2002)

Jerboa on a triple: I was in for it,
my zither on a double looking feeble

as a “promising” first book. Oedipal & reckless,
my scheme would fail: keep him a couple drinks

ahead, & perhaps the muse would smile
upon me with some ses or some blanks.

January, Vermont: snowflakes teased the windows
of the Burlington airport bar. The waitress

tallied tips & channel-surfed above the amber
stutter of the snowplow’s light: it couldn’t

keep up, either. Visibility to zero, nothing taking off
& his dulcimer before me (50 bonus points

for “bingos”) like a cautionary tale. The night
before I’d been his warm up act,

the audience of expensive preppies
doubling to twenty when he shambled

to the podium to give them Martial
& his then-new poems. “Why do you write

something nobody reads anymore?” queried one
little trust fund in a blazer. “Because

I’m willing to be honestly confused
& honestly fearful.” Il miglior fabbro,

a.k.a. Prez: sweet & fitting honorifics he has left
upon the living’s lips. Sweet & fitting too

that I could know the poems much better than
the man, flawed as I am told he was. Connoisseur

of word-root & amphibrach, of Coltrane
solo & of California reds, of box score & Horatian loss,

his garrulousness formidable & masking
a shyness I could never penetrate, meeting him

would always find me tongue-tied,
minding my psqs, the latter of which

I could not play, failing three times to draw a u.
The dead care nothing for our eulogies:

he wrote this many times & well.
& yet I pray his rumpled daimonion

shall guide our letters forward
as they wend the snow-white notebook leaves,

the stanzas scrolling down the laptop screens.
Game after game & the snow labored on.

Phalanx, bourboned whiteout & the board aglow
as he’d best me again & again. Qintar

prosody, the runway lights enshrouded
& the wind, endquote, shook the panes.

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