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About this poet

David R. Slavitt was born in White Plains, New York, in 1935, and educated at Andover, Yale, and Columbia University. A poet, translator, novelist, critic, and journalist, he is the author of more than seventy works of fiction, poetry, and poetry and drama in translation. He is also coeditor of the Johns Hopkins Complete Roman Drama in Translation series and the Penn Greek Drama Series. His most recent collections of original poetry are Falling from Silence: Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2001) and PS3569.L3 (1998). His latest translations are Sonnets of Love and Death by Jean de Sponde (Northwestern University Press, 2001), The Latin Odes of Jean Dorat (2000), The Book of the Twelve Prophets (1999), Voyage of the Argo: The Argonautica of Gaius Valerius Flaccus (1999), Solomon Ibn Gabirol's A Crown for the King (1998), Joao Pinto Delgado's Poem of Queen Esther (1998), and Ausonius: Three Amusements (1998). David Slavitt's other recent works include The Book of Lamentations: A Meditation and Translation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001) and Get Thee to a Nunnery: A Pair of Shakespearean Divertimentos (1999). His honors include a Pennsylvania Council on Arts award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in translation, an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Rockefeller Foundation Artist's Residence. He lives in Philadelphia and is on the faculties of Bennington and Yale.

The Intruder

David R. Slavitt, 1935
He broke in, picking the lock, or having stolen 
a key, and he knew the code to disarm the alarm, 

some homeless guy, a crazy street-person, harmless 
you’d think, but you’re wrong: he likes it here, and he stays. 

He rummages through my closets and dresser drawers 
and tries on my clothing, which happens, of course, to fit him. 

He runs my comb through his hair. He uses my toothbrush. 
He lies down on my side of the bed for a nap. 

He has settled in. In the mornings, he sits at my place 
and has his coffee and toast, reading my paper. 

He borrows my car and drives to meet my classes; 
during my office hours he meets with my students. 

We don’t look at all alike, but he’s living my life. 
I try to signal my friends with whom he dines 

or my wife with whom he is sleeping: "This isn’t me. 
He’s an impostor. How can you not have noticed? 

He’s old! He’s nasty. Also, he’s clearly crazy! 
How can he fool you this way? And how can you stand him?" 

They pay me no mind, pretending not to have noticed. 
Could they somehow be in on this together? 

But what is his purpose? Was he also displaced 
from apartment, job, and wife? Did that turn him desperate? 

And must I go out now myself to find a victim, 
break into his house, and begin living his life? 

Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Change of Address: Poems, New and Selected by David R. Slavitt. Copyright © 2005 by David R. Slavitt.

David R. Slavitt

David R. Slavitt

David R. Slavitt was born in White Plains, New York, in 1935,

by this poet

poem
The one-way flow of time we take for granted, 
but what if the valve is defective? What if the threads 
on the stem wear thin, or the stuffing box or the bonnet 
ring leaks, or the joints to the pipe ring fail, 
and there's a backwash?
                         It happens.
                                   And
poem

Motherless.

Discussion questions.

  1. Is this a joke? And, if so, is it a joke of the poet in which the editor of the magazine (or, later, the book publisher or the textbook writers) has conspired? Or is it a joke on the editors and publishers? Is the reader the audience of the poem?
  2. It is