Poem Had Always

by Tim Hunt

Poem had always believed in the sanctity of the blank
Page, but he had to admit
There was something about ink
Needled into skin that compelled the eye. His
Problem was what. “Mother” was too
Sailor, and he’d read Said, so dragons

On the nod weren’t an option either,
And he was, he knew, a little too Wordsworth
To get down with a plate of Blake. Still,

He thought his should be something that signified
Poeticity. Perhaps a pen! And it could have
A little dribble of ink off the tip! But that was

Somehow a little abstract, and what if
A glancing eye misread his signifier,
Reading body where he wrote art. If Poem

Was to signify, he couldn’t be too free in
His free play. He imagined a carpenter
Flexing a saw or hammer posing at the beach.

And he had, he confessed to himself, a certain
Soft spot for that silhouette of the girl
Truckers had on their mud flaps but that

Wouldn’t do either. That was clearly too
Real for a poem and he didn’t want the lady
Poems thinking he thought of them like that.

He considered Homer, but alas
There was no image. Whitman
Had too much beard, that flowing swirl

Of white would swallow him in ink and
That was more needle than he could
Bear. True, there was always “Truth ’n’

Beauty,” but he’d been taught a real poet
should never tell but only show—a coy
ankle glimpsed as if by chance

from beneath the veil of a fulsome
skirt. Poem thought and thought about
What his black swirls should be, what text

To make of himself, and slowly he realized
It was his fate to remain empty
And white. Maybe, he thought, he could tell

His friends he was conceptual, that he
Was written in invisible ink—offer himself
As a kin to that painting—gesso coated

On white gesso, the canvas a blank
Hieroglyph, and the frame like a roped square
Around a boxing ring (Ah, the circled

Square!) and the eyes dancing like
Ali, or more like Smokin’ Joe trying
So so hard to find something to hit,

As the flicking jabs, the deft patter
And cobra quick gloves stung, stung,
And stung again. Ah! To be all!

To be nothing.


Tim_Hunt-200x300Tim Hunt’s publications include poems in such journals as Epoch, Tar River, and Quarterly West and the collection Fault Lines (Backwaters Press). He has two chapbooks, White Levis (Pudding House) and Redneck Yoga (Finishing Line) scheduled for 2010.

“Poem Had Always” is from the collection ’Til Twangdom Come, which is currently looking for a home. He and his wife Susan live in Normal, Illinois, where he teaches American literature at Illinois State University.

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