Sunday, September 7, 2008

Poetry Feature 6: Reginald Shepherd

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Somewhere Off the Coast of Cyprus


Gods don’t get what they want, they stumble,
falter and halt at the frontiers of fulfillment, puzzled
that power isn’t always pleasure. They want
to know what know is (I have known, I knew, I know, I will
know, I will have known
), instead learn only no. (Conjugate
this, decline every noun.) No happy ending to this sentence
for a god, sentenced to helpless
potency, all will and self-belief but somehow
substanceless, a notion of force that steals a form
and calls it body, steals a body and calls it mine, impervious
to touch. A litter of porous marble’s all that’s left,
paint-stripped but still stained, nothing that anyone
could use. How useless immortality becomes
in time, rubble retrieved from a receding river
in a year of drought. The goddess has no arms,
the god’s hand drawing back the bow
is missing, there’s no protection for them
anymore. Acid rain worms through their statuary
skin. Better to wait for the waters
to return, the mildewed monuments to finish
crumbling. Let the shipwrecked cargoes sleep
where they sank (myths buried in them
like birds that won’t be heard), gold leaf and lapis lazuli
dreaming of love, whatever love means to a god.

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Reginald Shepherd
is the recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship, which he plans to use to pay off the medical bills for a year's worth of nonstop sickness. When not in the hospital in one capacity or another, he's the author most recently of Fata Morgana (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2008), and Lyric Postmodernisms: An Anthology of Innovative American Poetries (Counterpath Press, 2008). He lives, and takes long naps, in Pensacola, Florida with his partner Robert Philen, a cultural anthropologist and paragon of love, kindness, and generosity.

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