John L Koethe

2 poems


for Matt Bevis

We made a happy home and there we pass our
obvious days.
Edward Lear


They still have their surprises, but there’s nothing they conceal
They’re preparing us for:  not the new long poem I’m going to write
Eventually, or something we’re going to do that’s different
From what we couldn’t imagine twenty years ago, and then did.
I miss the thrill of the unexpected, but as someone no doubt said, diminished
Expectations are a kind of happiness too, as fit for celebration as the rest.
I know it sounds so second rate, which is how the present always feels
By contrast with the potential of the past and promise of a future
That shrinks as you get older and turn into what you are.  And it’s easy,
Too easy.  But the more you think about happiness, the more elusive
It becomes.  And the more you think about yourself the more unreal you are.

I believe both that there’s something else, and that there isn’t—
Keats’s “negative capability,” the ability to make no sense and mean it,
Or Fitzgerald’s idea of intelligence as a power to harbor contradictory thoughts
And still get by, though all I share with them are sentences and confusions.
I used to take more pride in it than I do now, as though it masked a truth I knew
That other people didn’t, though it’s really just a style that seems to point beyond itself
And helped me make it through the days when they did too.  I love our life,
Despite the fact there’s nothing that it lacks.  I love the way it keeps its promises
And promises so little.  Most of all I love the equilibrium between its
Highs and lows, its ups and downs—between the lovely morning sunlight
And the disappointments limited to the weather and the evening news.

I’m in a reading group trying to fathom Heidegger, a philosopher I dislike,
Though I’ll give anything a try.  He seems to think we’ve lost a grasp
Of what it is to be the Greeks once had, and that we need it back.  He manifests
An overweening sense of struggle I instinctively distrust, that tempts me too.
Why can’t ordinary happiness be enough, or even everyday unhappiness?
There’s nowhere else to go, and even if there were it would be just another home,
Another life within its limits.  People think that heaven could be anywhere but here,
Though it can’t be, since it isn’t anywhere.  I know all that.  And yet I’m moved
By things I know can’t possibly be true, since here is always where we are—
Like the story of Owl and Pussy-cat sailing away in their little boat
To a land that’s merely somewhere in a poem, but where they finally find
True happiness on the edge of the sand, by the light of the moon.