Ted Burke

I told her to step back from the microphone
and speak slowly, to not tap the roof of
her mouth with the tip of her tongue that
need not click and pop in amplified echoes
while reading her poem by Wallace Stevens
about his crows, staring down on him from
wires stretched over new roads cutting
through the palm trees lining the edge of earth.

She read quickly, clipped, skipping over
troubling icons and isolated flora, the man
scratches his head, rubs his chin, tilts his head
and is stunned as wing spans throw shadows
over his face and spoil his perfect profile
on the side walk he walks upon in a white suit and cane,
she breaths steadily, readily, swaying with the fronds
and her blue eyes, like ponds, grow calm as cut grass
as the sentences become longer and the words
veer into beautiful cities and magic forests
described in pages of secret novels
that are read aloud behind the backdrop
of each tailored turn we take in day of getting through.

She reads and comes to an end
where the music doesn't stop
and even the silence is full of notes
that are scored and played in deferred crescendos,
applause fills the air, one hand, two hands,
four hands, five and more fill the air,
for the moment dulling the screams of cash registers
or the coffee grinders pulverizing beans
to fine, black essence of legal tweak and tattered,

I go to kiss her after dinner
and she withdraws
to her corner of the front seat,
opening the door,
standing over the window
while I rattle my car keys,

"You're not Wallace Stevens"
she says before she turns
and walks up the stairs to her bungalow,
her eyes full of moonlight
the color of ice cream.





"I Am Not Wallace Stevens" comes from a series of poems I was writing in 2005 about the poets and writers who've come to influence my thinking on poetry, as well as poets whom I've found bothersome over the years. This poem, I'd say, is about the effort to dig my way out of the landscape of Stevens' beautifully subverted Ideal Types and find a style of my own, an effort that, of course, continues. Stevens is so involved with Ideal Types and the sensuality of their forms that there is something of a disconnection between his poems and his professional life as a Life Insurance executive; I thought it would be interesting to imagine a situation where the world is nothing but the perfected forms he imagined, but in this instance concerning a couple who are approaching each other with unspoken airs of seductive caution.