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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 9, 2018.
About this Poem 

“‘Overnight’ is an elegy for the poet Paul Violi (1944–2011), whose work I first read in the late 1970s. I took the title of the poem from his book Overnight (Hanging Loose Press), which was first published in 2007. In the obituary that appeared in The New York Times, William Grimes wrote that Violi was ‘a poet with an easy, conversational style and satiric bent who reworked arcane historical verse forms and invented his own in poems that mimicked glossaries, errata slips, travel brochures and cover letters.’ I chose the pantoum—a form where every line appears twice in a predetermined order—as a way of honoring Violi and his poetry.”
—John Yau

Overnight

            In Memory of Paul Violi (1944–2011)


I did not realize that you were fading from sight
I don’t believe I could have helped with the transition

You most likely would have made a joke of it
Did you hear about the two donkeys stuck in an airshaft

I don’t believe I could have helped with the transition
The doorway leading to the valleys of dust is always open

Did you hear about the two donkeys stuck in an airshaft
You might call this the first of many red herrings

The doorway leading to the valleys of dust is always open
The window overlooking the sea is part of the dream

You might call this the first of many red herrings
The shield you were given as a child did not protect you

The window overlooking the sea is part of the dream
One by one the words leave you, even this one

The shield you were given as a child did not protect you
The sword is made of air before you knew it

One by one the words leave you, even this one
I did not realize that you were fading from sight

The sword is made of air before you knew it
You most likely would have made a joke of it

Copyright © 2018 John Yau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 John Yau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

John Yau

John Yau

Art critic, essayist, poet, and prose writer John Yau teaches at Rutgers University.

by this poet

poem
It is said, the past
sticks to the present

like glue,
that we are flies

struggling to pull free
It is said, someone

cannot change
the clothes

in which
their soul

was born.
I, however,

would not
go so far

Nor am I Rembrandt,
master of the black

and green darkness,
the hawk's plumes

as it shrieks
down
poem

You grow up hearing two languages. Neither fits your fits
Your mother informs you “moon” means “window to another world.”

You begin to hear words mourn the sounds buried inside their mouths
A row of yellow windows and a painting of them

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