The kind of poetic conceit etymologicon that delights in the service of deep feeling.
Scrabble with Matthews
BY DAVID WOJAHN
(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 ps & qs, 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.