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About this poet

Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1953, David Rivard is the author of Sugartown (Graywolf Press, 2005); Bewitched Playground (2000); Wise Poison, which won the 1996 James Laughlin Award; and Torque (1987), which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and was published by the Pitt Poetry Series.

Rivard's honors include two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and fellowships from the Massachusetts Arts Foundation and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has also received the Celia B. Wagner Award from the Poetry Society of America and a Pushcart Prize.

David Rivard is Poetry Editor at the Harvard Review and teaches at Tufts University and the Vermont College MFA in Writing Program. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

God the Broken Lock

David Rivard, 1953
I've died enough by now I trust
just what's imperfect or ruined.  I mean God,
God who is in the stop sign
asking to be shotgunned, the ocean that evaporates even
as we float.  God the bent nail & broken lock,
and God the hangnail.  The hangnail.
And a million others might be like me, our hopes
a kind of illegal entry, a belief in smashed windows,
every breakage
like breaking & entering into a concert hall,
the place my friend & I crawled into an air shaft, & later
fell asleep.  After breakage
there is always sleep.
We woke to gospel hymns from the dressing room
below, songs commending
embrace to the fists, & return to the prodigal.
And hasn't my luck always been a shadow, stepping out, stretching?
I mean I trust what breaks.
A broken bone elicits condolence,
and the phone call sounds French if the transmission fritzes,
and our brains--our blessed, desirable brains--are composed
of infinitesimal magnets, millions of them
a billionth-of-a-milligram in weight, so
they make us knock our heads against hard walls.
When we pushed through the air vent,
the men singing seemed only a little surprised,
just slightly freaked,
three of them in black tuxes, & the fourth in red satin,
crimson, lit up like a furnace trimmed with paisley swirls,
the furnace of a planet, or of a fatalistic ocean liner
crisscrossing a planet we've not discovered yet,
a fire you might love to be thrown into.
That night they would perform the songs half
the country kept on its lips half of every day.
Songs mostly praising or lamenting or accusing some loved one
of some beautiful, horrendous betrayal or affection.
But dressing, between primping & joking about
their thinning afros, they sang of Jesus.  Jesus,
who said, "Split a stick, & you shall find me inside."
It was the winter we put on asbestos gloves, & flameproof
stuck our hands in the fireplace, adjusting logs.
Jesus, we told them, left no proof of having sung a single note.
And that, said the lead singer, is why we are all sinners.
What he meant was
we are all like the saints on my neighbors' lawns--
whose plaster shoulders & noses,
chipped cloaks & tiaras, have to be bundled
in plastic sheets, each winter, blanketed
from the wind & the cold.  That was what he meant,
though I couldn't know it then.

From Wise Poison by David Rivard, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 1996 David Rivard. Used with permission.

David Rivard

David Rivard

Born in 1953, David Rivard is the author of Wise Poison, which won the 1996 James Laughlin Award

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