Sunday Jul 14

CoreyStephen Stephen Corey is the author of Startled at the Big Sound: Essays Personal, Literary, and Cultural (Mercer UP, 2017) and ten poetry collections, most recently There Is No Finished World (White Pine Press). He is the editor of The Georgia Review, with which he has worked since 1983.

Poet Editing Death

In those earliest years I chose the line
measuring the softest skin I knew, there
along the crease of her uppermost thigh,
at the edge of the pubic hair spreading
in toward her other forms of softness.

Next I liked works of further devotion,
love that knew lust but peered beyond its wall.
Also, soon, the songs of new life grabbed me:
babies in bloody emergence, toddlers
on the grass or beach, first words on the air.

I saw where all this was going, but still
I made my chilled-heart choices, my holdings,
cuts, and perfectings: “Drop this, polish that.”
There was no stopping my love for the art
that told me what I loved, what never stopped.

Poems of fucking came to embarrass me,
but only across those few brief years
I pretended youth gone, pretended aging.
I sought tryst and triste for opposing
pages, for lovers and dying parents.

Past fifty I started to think—poor boy—
finding thought could bring back sex, banish death,
run St. Elmo’s fire up every mast;
too old then to believe I was older,
old enough to write the previous line.

One thing equals one poem—then move on:
Her astonishing ass, naked above me
as we climb the ladder to the loft.
My father in a room I never saw,
his last breaths at 3 a.m., my birth time.
My first child in her bassinet, lying
asleep since the trip from the hospital—
her tininess terrifying, the ten
fingers of her hands fingers of my hand
curling, stretching, editing death away.

Why They Are Good

                        I recall, in sunlight,
                        a strange angle of your leg
                        as you lay naked on the ground.

                                    -The first good lines I ever wrote.

Because arousal gives back
poetry to passion, passion to poetry.
Because five ls are one
antidote to hell.
Because five ns make everything
grow, placing the whole tongue
against the palate and not
merely the leading tip, so useful
so often otherwise.
Because the syllables stepladder—
six, seven, eight—and the accents
swell—three, three, four—to meet
the arrival of nakedness.
Because the full force of the story
lies behind the three lines,
the twenty-one syllables left
to dream of adding the real
tongue, the real legs, the real.