Against Poetry



There is no word in English for the circle

left on a table from a cold glass,

or for the difference in flavor

between fresh and dried fruit. There’s no precise

way to say I pushed my thumbs through the eyes

of the old living except to say all that, and then

it barely seems a miracle anymore,

a lamp burned for eight days or

then the prophet split the moon, why bother? We speak

of the divine with the panicked

futility of a barn swallow

tossing her eggs out the nest

to spare them a crow—theory proves

useless, confusion

the only true coin of the realm.

The stories stay the same:

this new drug tames

that old one, fat hardens

in a bowl. Three boys

stand naked in a shallow pond

whispering nervously, counting

each other’s bones. Who would

want to name any of this? We are wired

to feel comfort at human

voice, and we know nothing

can conquer comfort. Still, the shape

of a bad name is like a toothpick

swallowed—even if you survive,

the splinters will stay

long enough for you to swear off toothpicks forever.

Some have managed it, abandoned language

entirely, the bravest among them

not opening their mouths

for decades at a time. They know

what the saints knew: silence

to a tongue is different than silence

to a soul—the difference

is pain or the difference

is light, but either way there is a difference

and it matters, though here in the belly of the present

the difference is shrinking right

in front of us like an oversalted plum, like a sullen

crow disappearing into the horizon.

Kaveh Akbar is the author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf and the chapbook Portrait of the Alcoholic.

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