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“Perhaps We Are What We Want to Remember”

by Matt Donovan

Take Saint Augustine at his word, & watch as you become

last May’s cold snap crusting locust buds, one sticky night

tipped back in bucket seats, three neat rows of gravel

in a shoebox labeled Petrified Rain. Cleaved emerald shells

of a dragonfly snared in a wolfspider’s web, that mouth

biscotti-crammed you can’t ever give up. And what you’re not,

since these are merely things which surface at times—

undesired, unbidden—is the doughy, swollen neck of some guy

named Barry who collapsed at the Vatican into your arms,

that tangerine-poached, gone-off tilapia choked down in bed,

or Mac Magoon with cupcake clumps in his hair, bat-wild

beneath a piñata as you touch Sarah Jordan’s sun-burnt calf

beneath that leopard-print spread. Memory, Augustine wrote,

is like a great field, one in which leek-like hibiscus roots creep

through soil until, on an otherwise forgettable day, they flame

with morning light in a bourbon bottle vase. Or one in which

a farmer finds among his withered stalks an owl that must have been,

he thinks, snared in the wires, its talons still gripping

some sleek, whiskered thing. Although this is what you hear

mumbled from a diner’s smoke-filled booth as you finger each name

carved into the tabletop, about now you should drop the act.

No one believes you want to become a cream-colored beak

in a dying patch of earth, that ant-rich feather splay.

Doesn’t this dead bird engraved in someone else’s mind

only allow you to loosen your hold on your own chosen past,

those misremembered scraps of what you once held close to your lips,

to your bare, pimply chest beneath the Ocean City boardwalk

as the night surf tossed & churned? Admit you remain what you are:

a man eavesdropping at the Kettle Stop, someone wishing

what would last of today was something more than that electric-blue

smear of boysenberry syrup, someone else’s story about wings.


Matt Donovan’s first book of poems—Vellum—was selected by Mark Doty as the winner of the 2006 Bakeless Prize for poetry. He received his MFA from New York University and a 2004 NEA Fellowship in Literature. His poems have appeared in several journals, including AGNI, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Kenyon Review. He is assistant professor of literature and creative writing at the College of Santa Fe. (11/2007)

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AGNI Magazine :: published at Boston University ©2008 AGNI