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J A N U A R Y   1 9 9 9

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by Rodney Jones

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Also by Rodney Jones:
Raccoon Time (1999)
On Pickiness (1996)
Two Poems (1996)
TV (1995)

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The old man William Carlos Williams, who had been
        famous for kindness
And for bringing to our poetry a mannerless speaking,

In the aftermath of a stroke was possessed by guilt
And began to construct for his wife the chronicle

Of his peccadilloes, a deplorable thing, a mistake,
Like all pleas for forgiveness, but he persisted

Blindly, obstinately, each day, as though in the end
It would relieve her to know the particulars

Of affairs she must have guessed at and tacitly permitted:
For she encouraged his Sunday drives across the river;

His poems suggest as much, anyone can see it.
The thread, the binding of the voice, is a single hair

Spliced from the different hairs of different lovers,
And it clings to his poems, blonde and dark,

Tangled and straight, and runs on beyond the page.
I carry it with me, saying, "I have found it so."

It is a world of human blossoming, after all.
But the old woman, sitting there like rust --

For her, there would be no more poems of stolen
Plums, of round and firm trunks of young trees,

Only the candor of the bedpan and the fouled sheet,
When there could no longer have been any hope

That he would recover, when the thing she desired
Was not his health so much as his speechlessness.

Rodney Jones is the author of six poetry collections. His poem in this issue will appear in his book Elegy for the Southern Drawl, to be published this spring.
Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 1999; Plea for Forgiveness; Volume 283, No. 1; page 75.

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