Unvocation

By Michael Lavers

Featured art: smokey lady by Byron Armacost

He made a poem and began it thus:
Muse, tell me nothing! Keep quiet, Muse!
Jules Renard
Muse, tell me nothing! Keep quiet, Muse!
Not that you visit much, or would entrust me
with the grand advancements of the true and beautiful.


But just in case you have some scrap for me,
some local insight or a meager rhyme,
in case you wanted to drop by and put


the coffee on, and light a cigarette, and set your
sandaled feet up on my desk, and give detached
dictation, don’t. Don’t even think about it.

It’s no use telling me the purple buntings
are back, or how the horses down the road
steam after rain, or that two men are felling

pines over on Locust Lane, their careful cuts
inspiring some ode about the marriage
of form and function, muscle and grace.

Pester the poet laureate instead, or if
she’s scribbling already, visit Frank, my neighbor,
whose proclivity to mow the lawn late after dark

reveals a visionary’s knack for following
one’s own strange rules, no matter the judgment
of others. Pick anyone but me. Corner a dog,


or crawl into a cave, whisper to scorpions.
Or better still, stay quiet. Hey, don’t roll
your eyes like that. Don’t argue beauty

has its own use outside usefulness.
No, if you must speak, make it practical,
teach me to caulk the bathroom tile,


or judge others on a curve. But if it’s poetry
you have in mind, I’ll pass. Don’t tell me
that I’m going to die, and who knows when,

and therefore must put down the way
the pink light floods the valley like a wave,
then disappears. Shut up about the fleeting

beauty of the world—I get it. All things fade.
Just tell me what I can control, teach me
a trade, like felling trees: how to make sure

they fall just how and when I say: no sudden
turn, no frills, no mysteries, no doubts.
Only a simple line. Only a hard clear sound.


Michael Lavers is the author of After Earth, published by the University of Tampa Press. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, AGNI, The Hudson Review, Best New Poets 2015, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. Winner of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize, the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize, and the Bridport Poetry Prize, he lives in Provo, Utah, and teaches at Brigham Young University.

Originally published in NOR 29.

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