Readings in Contemporary Poetry

Thom Gunn


He died,  and I admired 
the crisp vehemence 
of a lifetime reduced to 
half a foot of shelf space. 
But others came to me saying, 
we too loved him,  let us take you 
to the place of our love. 
So they showed me 
everything,  everything--
a cliff of notebooks 
with every draft and erasure 
of every poem he 
published or rejected, 
thatched already 
with webs of annotation. 
I went in further and saw 
a hill of matchcovers 
from every bar or restaurant 
he'd ever entered.  Trucks 
backed up constantly, 
piled with papers, and awaited 
by archivists with shovels; 
forklifts bumped through 
trough and valley 
to adjust the spillage. 
Here odors of rubbery sweat 
intruded on the pervasive 
smell of stale paper, 
no doubt from the mound 
of his collected sneakers. 
I clambered up the highest 
pile and found myself 
looking across not history 
but the vistas of a steaming 
range of garbage 
reaching to the coast itself.  Then 
I lost my footing! and was 
carried down on a soft 
avalanche of letters,  paid bills, 
sexual polaroids,  and notes 
refusing invitations,  thanking 
fans,  resisting scholars. 
In nightmare I slid, 
no ground to stop me,

until I woke at last 
where I had napped beside 
the precious half foot.  Beyond that, 
nothing,  nothing at all.	

© 1998