Sunday, July 27, 2014


This is a poem by Miller Williams, a poet from Arkansas and the father of singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams.  It talks about going down together, and it's got jokes, which is good enough for me.

The Associate Professor Delivers an Exhortation to His Failing Students
Now when the frogs
that gave their lives for nothing
are washed from the brains and pans
we laid them in
I leave to you
who most excusably misunderstood
the margins of my talks
which because I am wise
and am a coward
were not appended to the syllabus

but I will fail to tell you
what I tell you
even before you fail to understand
so we might
in a manner of speaking
go down together.

I should have told you something of improtance
to give at least a meaning
to the letter:

how, after hope, it sometimes happens

a girl, anonymous as beer,
telling forgotten things in a cheap bar
how she could have taught here as well as I.

The day I talked about the conduction of currents
I meant to say
be careful about getting hung up in the brain's things
that send you screaming like madmen through the town
or make you
like the man in front of the Jungle
that preaches on Saturday afternoons
a clown.

The day I lectured on adrenalin
I meant to tell you
as you were coming down
slowly out of the hills of certainty

empty your mind of the hopes that held you there.
Make a catechism of all your fears

and say it over:

this is the most of you ... who knows ... the best
where God was born
and heaven and confession
and half of love

From the fear of falling
and being flushed away
to the gulp of the suckhole and that rusting gut
from which no Jonah comes

that there is no Jesus and no hell
that God
square root of something equal to all
will not feel the imbalance when you fall

that rotting you will lie unbelievably alone
to be sucked up by some insignificant oak
as a child draws milk through straws
to be his bone.

These are the gravity that holds us together
toward our common sun

every hope getting out of hand
slings us hopelessly outward one by one
till all that kept us common is undone.

The day you took the test
I would have told you this:
that you had no time to listen for questions
hunting out the answers in your files
is surely the kind of irony
poems are made of

that all the answers at best are less than half

and you would have remembered
who hung around with God or the devil for days
and nobody asked him


But if they do
If one Sunday morning they should ask you
the only thing that matters after all
tell them the only thing you know is true

tell them failing is an act of love
like sin
it is the commonality within

how failing together we shall finally pass
how to pomp and circumstance all of a class
nobel of eye, blind mares between our knees,
lances ready, we ride to Hercules.

The day I said this had I meant to hope
some impossible punk on a cold slope
stupidly alone
would build himself a fire
to make of me an idiot

and a liar


susan said...

I could pick out some lines or phrases as especially good points about this poem.. but I won't. In its entirety it's quite wonderful enough as it is.

Then again, I did like this one from near the end in particular:

and you would have remembered
who hung around with God or the devil for days
and nobody asked him


Great line. It's a wonder nobody thought if that before.

Ben said...

That's a good catch. There's so little written about Lazarus in the Bible, it does make you wonder.