Conjunctions:50 Fifty Contemporary Writers

Why Does the World Out There Seem
Why does the natural feel unnatural?
Why does the world out there seem
so utterly foreign to these poems?
It isn’t strange, and hardly hostile,
to the heart and eye behind their lines:
dirt exploding into spring,
leaves climbing the pipe to the screen,
the morning glory’s funnel of blue,
the sap of it all coursing through
every fiber of all those veins.
Why does the natural feel so strained
when set beside the abstract figures
of speech’s discourse linking us?
Poems, as Williams wrote, are machines.


But maybe the natural’s not what I mean,
so much as experience of the natural
merged with that which men have made.
No, not that. It’s registration
of things one feels have already been
established as facts by eyes and mind.
Once is plenty. And that’s the sacred.
Why the need to return to the scene
of each epiphany? Why the craving
for that halo? A kind of greed?
Natural lines on a piece of paper
are revelation enough for now,
as are speaking and listening to
you and what these words might say.


Extending beyond information, but also
observation of that natural
world that observation reveals
as a miracle. Or not beyond—
beside. Maybe even beneath.
Or breached. That’s the thread leading
back and possibly out or through:
to what or whom? Him? You?
I’m here, almost against my will,
having been led, as though by the nose,
by language. And in this abstract picture
I’m asking you to bear with me.
Reader. Readers. Reading. We
are in this instant’s chain together.


A chain partaking of enchantment,
mystics have written, implying song,
and maybe the poem. Or just a spell.
Which might as easily be a hell-
ish hall of echoes or mirrored images
mixing in the hungry mind.
Or, diversion that doesn’t feed
and draws one further from, not toward,
the pool of pleasure wisdom is.
Depending on the poem’s design.
Strange how I’ve become a modern
poet of a medieval kind—
making poems for a different diversion,
as they point toward what’s divine.


Amusement derives from the animal’s mouth
and snout, stuck there in the air,
as it stares, struck by words
it heard. In a manner of speaking
it muzzles as in what’s not fair,
or wonder. And in the illogical moment
of what it means and how it works,
while the mouth is closed, nourishment—
if it’s serious—enters through it.
And in a nutshell that’s the sentence
and solace that sweet Chaucer meant.
The poem’s gesture, changing, survives
in generations of aspiration,
leading us on … or into our lives.

Peter Cole’s most recent publications are Hymns & Qualms: New and Selected Poems and Translations (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and a chapbook, On Being Drawn: An Ekphrastic Translation, with Commentary (Cahier Editions/Sylph). He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007.