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Sample Poems by David Hathwell
Start Here

The papers are just about in order,
“Annuities” to “Will.” The folders
all are new—notched in classic tri-cut,
firmly creased, neatly edged,
the old indeterminate hue.

“Start Here” comes, exceptionally, first
—a bold organizational coup:
in the folder, on a single sheet,
a bulleted list headed “In this drawer,”
simple annotations here and there
for ease of use (“with instructions re
disposal of remains”). A few odd items
“In the top drawer of the desk”—
“Address book,” “Passport”—
fill out the bottom of the page.

This is brave, this is realism, he thinks,
yet can’t quite feel it to be so.
Of course, there’s more to do—
a paragraph to add, proofing to review
(“disposition” of remains?).

But recently he lingers, pulled
by other tasks, less and less inspired
by the pride of doing the difficult so well,
the relief of having done. Yesterday,
hearing the final, sealing clinch
of the sliding metal drawer, he frowned.

Because then—a premonition—then what?
A vigil, solitary, restless, bounded by danger.
The knowledge, sliding silently into view,
that, yes, for him, when the time has come,
courage, carefulness notwithstanding,
the drawer will not be opened, the folders
never pulled, the files not perused.


Pled from the Verge

I asked you, implored you not to let
me sink, all you had to do was face me
when I spoke, look me in the eyes,
at moments hold my arm or shoulder,
say with me what I said as I said it

but apparently I asked too much or
maybe didn’t ask it clearly, it was touch
and go from the start, maybe you weren’t
listening or had ideas of your own

and now look at me, look, the ground
is sand sliding under my feet, I’m on
my toes, the water’s at my chest, cool
not cold, what can I do, before I know it

liftoff, I’ll be floating free somewhere
on an ocean of my own, soon, you’ll see,
it won’t be long, I’ll open my arms to
the dwindling shore, let myself go, float
far out on a cool sea facing a blank sky
and with a little effort a little more effort
I’ll be silent, I won’t ask at all


That is to say I see part of it, as of all
one sees.

—Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

You can’t see anything
whole, anything

Contemplate the cube:
front (or back), top
(or bottom), side,

never more than these,
more often less,
never front

and back, top and
bottom, side
and side.

To see all that you’ll have
to split some half
the seams

and lay it flat. Though
there the cube’s no
longer whole,

shorted of its home in
space, where we,
born prey,

must make our way
at large, wary of
what lies behind.

I’ll Be a Vessel

I’ll empty myself
into the dark recesses
of its cool concavity.
I can see it: stoneware
under an ash glaze,
clean in the easy curve
of the mouth and neck
and wide, rounded shoulder,
free of ornament
and so finely shaped,
so smoothly finished that,
spinning on a sandy surface,
it would seem to stand still.

Don’t think I’ve made room
for moans or mewlings,
the clamor of old woes,
inarticulate, bottomless.
Imagine, within, no space
for tenancy or possession,
no quarter for rending pleas,
only a quiet center locked,
for good, in shadow. Imagine
the beauty of the scene.

I’ll stand, empty of memory,
under a leafy canopy,
open to intimations of sun-,
moon-, and starlight, marking
slow, diurnal rhythms,
safe from the taunts
of raw winds and rain,
claims as harmless as voices
from another room:
just a vessel, like countless
artifacts of its kind token
of another time, unobserved,
silent through centuries.