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"The Awl"

A poem from The Awl by Matthew Zapruder [posted by Mark Bibbins]

I love the way this poem captures the sad, sweet, isolated longing of adolescence. The tension created by the interplay of short lines and sneakily unruly syntax seems to mirror the experience of tentatively feeling one's way toward, eventually, hope. —MB

When I Was Fifteen

When I was fifteen
I suddenly knew
I would never
understand geometry.
Who was my teacher?
That name is gone.
I only remember
the gray feeling
in a classroom
filled with vast
theoretical distances.
I can still see
odd shapes
drawn on the board,
and those inscrutable
formulas everyone
was busily into
their notebooks scribbling.
I looked down
at the Velcro
straps of my entirely
white shoes and knew
inside me things
had long ago gone
terribly wrong
and would continue
to be. When
the field hockey star
broke her knee,
I wrote a story
for the school paper
then brought her
the history notes
in the snow.
She stood
in the threshold,
a whole firelit life
of mysterious
familial warmth
glowing behind her,
and took them
from my hands
like the blameless
queen of elegant
violence she was.
Walking home
encased in immense
amounts of down
I listened to
the analog ghost
in the machine
pour from the cassette
I had drawn
flowers on.
Into my ears
it sang everything
they told you
makes you believe
you are trapped
in a snow globe
forgotten in a dark
closet where exhausted
shadows argue
what is sorrow
cannot become joy,
but I am here
from the future
to tell you
you are not,
all you must do
is stay asleep
a few more years
great traveler waiting to go.

Matthew Zapruder’s most recent book is Why Poetry (Ecco, 2017). His fifth collection of poetry, Father’s Day, came out from Copper Canyon in fall 2019. He is associate professor in the MFA program at Saint Mary’s College of California and editor-at-large at Wave Books.

from the archive; first posted March 1, 2019

May 10, 2019

April 26, 2019

March 29, 2019

March 01, 2019

February 15, 2019

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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