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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 19, 2018.
About this Poem 

“There’s something about summer that unfolds and unlooses everything. I wrote this poem while in residence at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts—an artists’ colony I’ve been going to for fifteen years. A friend there was in a rut, and I wanted to make them feel better, but after writing it, I think I made everyone feel worse—including myself. If this poem is anything, it is maybe an anti-ode: a poem against gratitude. Because what creeps in when we truly open ourselves is the potential for joy and connection but also for grief and restlessness and confusion.”
—Erika Meitner

A Brief Ontological Investigation

What can I say to cheer you up? This afternoon the sky is like five portholes between the clouds. The unidentifiable weeds are tall and still unidentifiable and I miss the cows in the field, where have they gone? Sometimes one would wander then stand in the middle of the road and I’d have to stop my car and wait for it to decide to finish crossing. I am drinking seltzer through a straw because of my injury and I have inexplicable bruises on the side of my thigh and I just spent the last five minutes watching a bird through my window sitting in the small crotch where two phone lines x together though it flew off before I could take a picture of it. In the urgent care waiting room this morning there was a magazine with a proven neuroscience article on rituals that will make us happy and the first was practicing gratitude but when I tried to think of something right there next to the guy with the walker and the woman with gauze held to her cheek I came up blank. Because I am a terrible person I will tell you that my neighbor does this thing I hate with her kids called heart-bread, where they’re forced each night before bed to go around one by one and come up with a moment of gratitude and I want to tell her that we can thank anything—the crushed cans in recycling, my wristwatch for keeping time, the rainstorm yesterday that had water pouring from the gutters. I mean, we all overflow; we all feel an abundance of something but sometimes it’s just emptiness: vacant page, busy signal, radio static, implacable repeat rut where the tone arm reaches across a spinning vinyl record to play it again, rest its delicate needle in a groove and caress forever the same sound from the same body. Which is to say that the opposite of ennui is excitement and I’m not feeling it either today even a little. Not in the CVS while browsing the shiny electric rainbow nail-polish display indefinitely while waiting for my prescription. And probably not on my run later no matter how bucolic the mountains seem in the 5pm heat. The second ritual in that article was to touch people, which is easy if you’re with people you can touch but I’m in too loud a solitude and can only touch myself which reminds me of that old Divinyls’ song and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the article meant. Buber says you has no borders but he’s talking about god I think since this is not true of us because we all have bodies which make us small countries or maybe islands. If summer means our bodies are more porous perhaps we’re also more open to this inexplicable sadness that hangs here from the cinderblocks, drags itself across the barbed wire fence. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not cheered up either. That bird, before it flew off, I like to think of the crossed wires, the impenetrable conversations rushing under its feet. 

Copyright © 2018 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Erika Meitner. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Erika Meitner

Erika Meitner

Erika Meitner is the author of five poetry collections: Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA Editions, 2018); Copia (BOA Editions, 2014); Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls (Anhinga Press, 2011); Ideal Cities (Anhinga Press, 2010), winner of the 2009 National Poetry Series; and Inventory at the All-Night Drugstore (Anhinga Press, 2003).

by this poet

poem
You ask about the leaves and I tell you it’s been so dry here
the leaves are just giving up, turning brown, falling off the trees,
 
which all look dead. This might be a metaphor for the election or
might be a metaphor for nothing—it’s hard to say. Each morning
poem

and the moon         once it stopped         was sleeping

in the cold blue light          and the moon          while the wind snapped

vinyl siding apart          slipped around corners          whipped the neighbors'

carefully patterned bunchgrass          our snow-

poem

Hand-painted on the side
of a shack we pass
on the road to Ohio:
what this world comin to?

This is not haiku. This
is more like fog and we’re
socked in and your body

is invisible and right
across from me
simultaneously.

How much ammo you got