October 9, 2013

"Delmore Schwartz" by John Gery

After a Poetry Reading, Delmore Schwartz Returns to His Hotel

That moment I walked in I lost my beauty.
And in a bookshop, no less! Everyone --
from grandparents and aunts I’d only glimpsed
above my crib, to that waitress with “Judy”
embossed across her breast who’d made a pun
on just dessert at lunch -- flashed by like hints

from some Talmudic commentary. Barely
composed, and wobbling, I tried to grin
to mask that I could feel my bowels cutting loose.
The boy behind the register then snared me
and asked if I’d be reading “Gunga Din,”
a poem he’d memorized in school. “Obtuse,”

I muttered, “what I write.” Fat books of verse
by poets I could not identify
marshaled the shelves, with me so lost among them
like Sherman at a powwow of Nez Perce,
my first impulse was to shoot. Who knows why.
Had I known any paeans I’d have sung one

to keep the drowsy store manager awake
as I mowed down “Biographies.” Instead,
I fingered through The Secret Life of Snails,
feigning surprise, until my bellyache
devoured my insides. I want to be dead,
forgotten. Everything I think of pales

next to this bourbon bottle by the bed,
browner than Chief Joseph. I had “potential”
once. My ambition ranked me with the giants.
After tonight, my genius scalped and shredded,
disgrace will seem about as consequential
as melting poetry down to a science.

 (Poem first published in Interdisciplinary Humanities)