English poetry

Poems in English

A Poetry Reading At West Point

I read to the entire plebe class,
In two batches. Twice the hall filled
With bodies dressed alike, each toting
A copy of my book. What would my
Shrink say, if I had one, about
Such a dream, if it were a dream?

Question and answer time.
“Sir,” a cadet yelled from the balcony,
And gave his name and rank, and then,
Closing his parentheses, yelled
“Sir” again. “Why do your poems give
Me a headache when I try

To understand them?” he asked. “Do
You want that?” I have a gift for
Gentle jokes to defuse tension,
But this was not the time to use it.
“I try to write as well as I can
What it feels like to be human,”

I started, picking my way care-
Fully, for he and I were, after
All, pained by the same dumb longings.
“I try to say what I don’t know
How to say, but of course I can’t
Get much of it down at all.”

By now I was sweating bullets.
“I don’t want my poems to be hard,
Unless the truth is, if there is
A truth.” Silence hung in the hall
Like a heavy fabric. My own
Head ached. “Sir,” he yelled. “Thank you. Sir.”

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Poem A Poetry Reading At West Point - William Matthews