Timothy Donnelly





Early on in the undertaking I imagined
backing out of it. This allowed me to continue

outwardly while inwardly I’d stopped.
Not to make too much of it but everything

followed accordingly. The human in my experience
will speak until you agree. Agree,

or it will lean too close and bring its hands.
Protect what refuses by corrupting it

into something scarce. I don’t want to ruin it
but in reality there’s no choice. I agree

about the weather. I agree to the human voice
in its red declamation. But when what

punishes has penned itself in sleep, I reduce
what words it uses into a toxin I can sing.




November Paraphrase


What I meant was that I still wasn’t sure, and then a wave
in the literal sense rerouted much of my attention
from the matter at hand, which had come to have to do
with getting on in spite of everything, meaning whatever
lied ahead of us, especially in light of what we felt we knew
we wanted of a life, or from it, not only for ourselves
but as much for other persons now, including numbers
we might name, and then the rest we could only imagine

giving, somehow, name to. It’s hard to put a finger on
what it is about the ocean, how it always wants me
dead, specifically on its floor, with all my earthly assets
weaving in it lazily, as if some nightclub compliment
paid one celebrity to another, but that’s a big part of it
right there—all that rhetoric, desire, on whose leash a person
steps into the mouth of power, all the while trusting
we only ever gain from it. What I meant was that I still

wasn’t sure, here without embellishment, even after
time had passed for clarification, having left it as much
a feeling now as a thought, which no doubt made it easier
for one gray disturbance in a field of like disturbances
to cash in on what grew tender. Simply stated, there was no
other way to put it, or none I couldn’t easily dismiss
as approximate, and so I did, the way a gull huddled into
its breast on a pylon is often regarded as a monument

to oneself. Not that I didn’t correct it but for a duration
it had been real. That feeling. Which isn’t to say that I, too,
wanted me dead, meaning here no longer existing as I
had appeared to up until that point, although the evidence
presidents toward that notion at the rate the ticker tears
across the bottom of my television, where each of us in effect
has been buffeted by a force we come to parse as exact
opposite to what we intend, which I feel is best expressed

by not answering the question, a form of protection from
error and its wind, again like the gull, but only insofar
as getting on in this regard—in violent abeyance, uncertain
as what we did, or rather didn’t, did its harm to those
we named ourselves as much as those we can only imagine
the planet on behalf of—can ever be correct, when in practice,
what it is, though hard to put a finger on, is like stepping
back into the mouth of power, having taken it for your own.



Timothy Donnelly is the author, most recently, of The Cloud Corporation, winner of the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and the chapbook Hymn to Life. He is a poetry editor for Boston Review and chair of the Writing Program at Columbia University School of the Arts. He lives in Brooklyn.

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