Poem of the Week | January 09, 2023

D.S. Waldman is a 2022-2024 Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University. His work has appeared in Kenyon Review, LitHub, Narrative, and other publications. Waldman has received additional fellowships, support and awards from Stanford University, Middlebury College, San Diego State University, and Claremont Graduate University. He serves as poetry editor at Adroit.

 

Pastoral

Woke up in Atascadero. Woke up
From the high desert and drove here thinking
the syntax, maybe, until there was some

Rain that never reaches / ground, or the failure
It was fire season—neither of us
What to do with our hands, kept leaning on

The absence of language, you said, is
Is violence. No possibility of
I went back to the house and dialed

The grass, attending. I saw in the wind
A number unassigned. In the window
Not prayer this time but, like prayer, a sort of

Irony but whose directions, in a pinch,
Pushing back the dark, I drove. I tried
In the gaze to reach—but felt it welling

Others, death. You’d never said that to me
Me, wind and the sun’s volume in July
Our last conversation. That I couldn’t

Flicking the lighter until the metal
Or signaling across an open field
It was a dead number. I made it ring

 

Author’s Note

I’ve been trying lately, when working on poems, to push against linearity—to embrace fracture and fragmentation as legitimate ways of writing, reading, and experiencing the world. I was in an accident as a child that resulted in the loss of function and feeling in my right hand. 20 years ago, that was, and only recently have I begun considering how that experience—one of severance, of total and irrevocable loss—has inflected my aesthetic tendencies. And while this particular poem doesn’t deal directly with that injury, it uses a broken linguistic system that speaks more authentically to my experience living with a disability than might a more linear syntax.

These italicized lines:

Rain that never reaches / ground, or the failure

In the gaze to reach

are borrowed and modified from Ben Lerner’s long poem Mean Free Path, a sequence from which I drew a great deal of inspiration in thinking about nonlinear representation.

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