Trying to Write a Poem While the Couple in the Apartment Overhead Make Love

David Wagoner


She’s like a singer straying slowly off key
            while trying too hard to remember the words to a song
                         without words, and her accompanist
is metronomically dead set
            to sustain her pitch and tempo, and meanwhile,
                         under their feathers and springs, under their
under my own ceiling, I try to go on
            making something or other out of nothing
                         but those missing words, whose rhythm is only
predictable for unpredictable moments
            and then erratic, unforeseeable even
                         at its source where it ought to be abundantly,
even painfully clear. A song is a series of vowels
            interrupted and shaped by consonants
                         and silence, and gifted singers say if you can
pronounce words and remember how to breathe,
            you can sing. Although I know some words by heart
                         and think I know how to breathe (even down here
at work alone) and may be able sometimes
            to write some of them down, right now it seems
                         improbable they’ll have anything much like
the permissive diction, the mounting cadences,
            now, or then or now again the suspended
                         poise, the drift backward, the surprise
of the suddenly almost soundless catch
            of the caught breath, the quick
                         loss of support
which wasn’t lost at all as it turns out
            but found again and even again
                         somewhere, in midair, far, far above me. 

From The Yale Review, April 2008, issue 96.2.

Image: “Color Abstract” by zeevveez, licensed under CC by 2.0.