Christian Anton Gerard
DEFENSE OF POETRY IV
You've spotted him in the restaurant.
Sometimes alone, sometimes the table's heart
as he unfolds, folds, sets the menu down. He thinks
appetizers, like Springsteen songs, have thinned,
into starters—just enough so one wants more.
Probably somebody realized people walk
into restaurants because they're already hungry,
not to sit and become hungry. But, he supposes,
they could. Why not? Why not stroll in and sit
down, declare, Nothing now thank you,
I'm going to work up a craving for something
while I check out this literature? He'll open
the menu. Why not? Why not mull it over?
Mull over everyone in the place?
You've seen him looking up from the table
or over his shoulders. You can't tell where
he wishes he was or if he's fine there.
He looks familiar, like the deer you almost felled
last winter in the woods, the deer you held
in your crosshairs, but couldn't shoot because
the trees were ripe with bark. Don't overthink it,
you said to yourself. A deer wouldn't
make a decision. A deer would know
what it wanted when it walked into the dusk.
What did you want when you walked in here?
His table is clean. His menu is wearing
at the creases, a pair of jeans pulled on then off
again, like worry or insomnia. You're staring
at yourself in the window. What do you want?
Maybe you should offer yourself a beer. Maybe
you should flip yourself the bird. You could,
though, look straight into your eyes, recite
Mark Strand's "Breath," again for the thousandth time
because you're alone and that poem's a pillow
on a bed of piled concrete chips. You could say
the poem straight into your eyes in the window's
night-shine, a million headlights blinking through
your bloodstream, your hummingbird heart.
You've waited long enough and now you need.
Christian Anton Gerard's first book is Wilmot Here, Collect For Stella (WordTech, CW Books imprint, 2014). He has received Pushcart Prize nominations and scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Gerard currently lives in Knoxville where he's editor of Grist: The Journal for Writers and an English Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee.