John Rufo

Eric Baus asked if I could write a poem without any references in it / This is one failed attempt / Another asked if I could reveal myself in a poem / Is that happening here? / I think the people we choose to talk to (either dead or living) speak as much of us / perhaps more / than we might claim about ourselves / so that the virgule (/) stands for a page break / an opening, a clearing (but not an emptiness) / so that this is a section from a much longer poem / the ending always staying just out of reach

 


 

Excerpt from The Lives of the Poets I Know
 

It’s easier to swap what we have in common, break bread together. Futzing about differences can be fun, and a lot of people seem very dedicated to this task. The futzing, I mean; not really the difference. 

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The future is futzing when “u” “r” in it, trailed by an “e” no one pronounces or notices. 

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Maintaining one’s individuality is important in a democratic state that sometimes sponsors living (or dead) poets with a title or a fellowship – in addition to spots of terrorism, spots of time, here and there – but can one really be uniquely one’s self, not a nobody nor a somebody, if others are also trying hard and sweating over the task of being one’s self? 

No one works in an operating room alone. 

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But many living poets I know only dance in private. 

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Surgery is still a kind of performance. A dance-mask. Keats cut open bodies for pay and died of tuberculosis. 

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Does this matter if we’re considering living poets vs. human beings? 

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Are living poets different than others? 

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Of course. But others are also different from living poets. 

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Most of the living poets I know dream with some regularity, but that doesn’t mean every poem is a dream, or that they even keep a dream journal. Some maintain that all dreams are dry, and others awake to sudden puddles, lap lanes in sheets. 

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Some living poets are convinced that other living poets are the problem. I think this is true, 
too, but I’ve never met some of the living poets I think are a problem. 

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Rather, what they write or perform is a problem. If they themselves, as a nobody or somebody,
in their Something-ness or Nothing-ness, are a problem, then I’m not really sure where to proceed from there. 

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If someone’s existence is a problem for somebody else, if a life of a person becomes the cause for someone else’s Nothing-ness or Something-ness, then we have exited the equation. 

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The limit does not do poetry. 

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For it’s not really an if followed by a then: it is the present moment colliding with another moment that becomes a train fading into a tunnel way back there somewhere. 

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It’s the notes we’re not reading from. 

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It’s the really difficult and draining letters to compose made of the same letters as the easy notes, the slap-dash thing I fancy, the email I forgot I even sent. 

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When there-ness becomes here-ness with another person it’s really quite lovely. 

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Especially if it rhymes. 

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It is always-already Tuesday, for example. That’s an absurd way of putting a relatively simple point.

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Do you follow me? Would you want to follow me? 

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How do we pick out Messiahs? Or does a Messiah perform the selection? 

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Most of the living poets I know enable large egos. 

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Most of the living poets I know like some other living poets, though not all living poets. 

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The first living poet I met, when she read something she liked by a living poet, her lips smiled but not her eyes. 

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She is not the only living poet to smile with lips but not eyes in public and that is reassuring. 

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Though some things you can’t help but do in front of others. 

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Like a lisp, for example. 

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Some people want to erase the people they are in front of others: become, yet again, strange. 

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I am waiting to meet a living poet who likes every other living poet, if only fleetingly. 

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I am waiting to meet a person who likes every other person. 

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I am waiting to meet a person at this deli. 

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A living poet messages me: “I’m pretty into delis.” 

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At that moment, I was into that living poet. Not because she was into delis, but because, among other things, she was an expert about places that provided meats. 

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This is not called empathy, even if you tried.  

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This is not called poetry; it is a resting place. 

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This poem is not a cigarette but you could probably smoke it. 

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Charles Olson dubbed himself an “Archaeologist of Morning.” Changing occupations is one way to transform. The duties of a caterpillar are dissimilar to the daily mutterings of butterflies; or, even moths, while we’re at it, who you will never be. 

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I would like to think this poem is organic, farm-fresh. It comes from a living poet whose hometown has very few bridges, very few trains, but many cows who are milked morningly. 

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Why isn’t that word a word? You know the word I’m referring to. 

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And yes, I don’t mind ending with a preposition. 

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Even if that sentence doesn’t end with a preposition. 

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I would like to thank this poem for being organic. 

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That line no longer resonates as well off “I would like to think this poem is organic, farm-fresh” because I added some lines between the lines. It is hard to tell what you can tell, you who are so far away. When the “i” becomes an “a.”

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Are inorganic things simply stale? Did someone put something unpleasant in here, an ageless wicked eternity?

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Any fool recognizes an odor. 

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The Order of Things is a book I like by Michel Foucault. 

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The subtitle of The Order of Things is typically translated “An Archaeology of the Human Sciences.” Both Foucault and Olson were grave-diggers, showing you skulls you knew well when the dead could still yawn without choosing. 

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Things that are organic hopefully die; the inorganic moments last forever. Names of brands in landfills. Ashes end-dabbed. 

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No longer any way to enjamb. 

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I am nervous. 

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I am nervous in this process of naming that I have declared something about other poems or living poets. 

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I am nervous because that is, in fact, what I meant to do.

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Must we mean what we meant?  

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For what I meant: If I only speak about the Self, which is a clouded mirror that merely writes My Self, then the poem and the living poet are largely interchangeable. 

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I would like to fight this feeling of one thing being exchanged for another.

 

 

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John Rufo reads and writes poetry at Hamilton College. His critical and creative work has been previously published, or is forthcoming, in Ploughshares, Entropy, Fanzine, JERRY, and Prelude. You can find him online at dadtalkshow.tumblr.com