Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lost Poem: "Program for the Class of '87"

I was cleaning through some old files and....

Let me start another way. In a recent poetry podcast, a poet was asked what magazines he read. The podcast was authored by the Poetry Foundation, which publishes Poetry magazine, the oldest poetry journal in the U.S. The poet admitted he did like to page through Poetry, because every once in a while, he discovered a brilliant gem.

I related to that. It was in back issues of Poetry magazine that I first discovered my favorite poet, Charles Simic. A lot of the time, the poetry there doesn't knock my socks off, but once in a while, it does.

Regular readers may remember a poem I posted in October, from the magazine's Summer Humor Issue (if you missed it, go here to read it again).

Anyway, I was cleaning through some old files and discovered a poem that I ripped out of an issue of Poetry a while back.

The poet is identified as Max Eberts, and I didn't even know what issue this came from, at first. Googling found the index, and I indentified this as coming from the June 1996 issue. I wanted to know more about the poet, but I cannot find any more poetry by Mr. Eberts. There is a Max Eberts who contributed a piece of prose to an anthology of ghost stories. There is also a Max Eberts who was in the publicity department at a little company in Texas called Enron. And a Max Eberts who was editor of Collegium, a publication at the University of Houston. Hmmm. There could be three or four different Max Eberts, or they could all be one in the same. Either way, this poem is among my favorites. It was nice to find it again.


Out of the arbor of shade, into the light,
our black gowns shimmering like the pigeons
lined up on the balustrades, we enter the open
air glaze of suits and hats, of banners floating,
moving in a rhythm not like the arched arcades, we enter,
a pageant of shadows, long brush strokes of black
through a watercolor. Here in this thick tongue
of early summer air, the bass drum beating, already
we begin to dissolve. Through rows of chairs, past
endless names carved on every folding bench, on every
curved back, rows and rows in memory of those before us,
we take our predetermined seats, unmindful of the dark
birds brooding in the tabernacles, unmindful of the grave
countenance of the priesthood plodding by -
black gowns, velvet bars, mortarboards,
tassels, soft caps, the satin flesh of hoods gleaming
with color - blue, crimson, orange, red - flaring
from all the black, like flames from a smoky pyre.

The speaker on the podium quotes Ecclesiastes;
nothing new under the sun about waiting
for his speech to end, so much talk
about our mission in life as we sit propped
like body bags. And on the East Lawn, peaceful
with the prayerful murmurs of mourning doves,
we mingle, guests after the wake, moving
through the maze of kisses and hugs, of handshakes
and flowers, the darting eyes we won't see again,
flushed faces and fleshly desires, the young lovers
in their shrouds. The light diffuses the oak leaves
into green air and holes of dim reflection.
A blue jay shrieks Thief! Thief!
We linger, not ready just yet to leave the cloister,
not ready to shed our dark habits. One more stroll
along the lawn, past the hollow, where the owl, hidden,
waits for night, waits to swoop
like a cleaver thrown in the dark.

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