So, I’m on the Poem-A-Day mailing list from the Academy of American Poets. When I signed up for it, I thought I’d only be receiving poems every day in April, National Poetry Month. But then they just kept on coming. Which is great. Except…most days I don’t read them. I just move them into a folder in my Gmail account I’ve aptly titled “Poetry.”
But somedays I do read the poems. And sometimes I’m like, “Meh.” But sometimes I’m like, “Wow.” And today’s poem, by John Koethe, was a wow. This critic’s quote sums up why the poem did it for me: “Koethe’s poetry is ultimately lyrical, and its claim on us comes…from the common human dream that our lives make some kind of sense.” I didn’t realize that was my human dream, but, yes, I think it is. (I also like the poem because it mentions a cat.)
Wallace Stevens is beyond fathoming, he is so strange; it is as if he had a morbid secret he would rather perish than disclose . . .
—Marrianne Moore to William Carlos Williams
Another day, which is usually how they come:
A cat at the foot of the bed, noncommittal
In its blankness of mind, with the morning light
Slowly filling the room, and fragmentary
Memories of last night’s video and phone calls.
It is a feeling of sufficiency, one menaced
By the fear of some vague lack, of a simplicity
Of self, a self without a soul, the nagging fear
Of being someone to whom nothing ever happens.
Thus the fantasy of the narrative behind the story,
Of the half-concealed life that lies beneath
The ordinary one, made up of ordinary mornings
More alike in how they feel than what they say.
They seem like luxuries of consciousness,
Like second thoughts that complicate the time
One simply wastes. And why not? Mere being
Is supposed to be enough, without the intricate
Evasions of a mystery or offstage tragedy.
Evenings follow on the afternoons, lingering in
The living room and listening to the stereo
While Peggy Lee sings “Is That All There Is?”
Amid the morning papers and the usual
Ghosts keeping you company, but just for a while.
The true soul is the one that flickers in the eyes
Of an animal, like a cat that lifts its head and yawns
And looks at you, and then goes back to sleep.