How does a person say “I love you” in our post-ironic age and not sound greeting-card vapid? In “You, Therefore,” Reginald Shepherd (b. 1963) manages the trick. He doesn’t avoid romantic clichés: you’ll find the moon and stars, scads of flowers, a rain-speckled bower, the heaving sea, strawberries, and a soft-focus snowbound bedroom vignette. Shepherd takes these hoary materials, however, and presents them with the awkwardness, stuttering, and pseudologic of a man choked by passion. The poem is a single meandering sentence with peculiar repetitions (“if I say to you, ‘To you I say’”); faulty grammar (“you” are “a kind of dwell and welcome”); odd puns (“you . . . have come to be my night”—oh Lancelot!); overheated sound play (“like the sea, salt-sweet . . . trees and seas have flown away”); and attempts to qualify or take back things just asserted (“the snow was you, / when there was snow”). The style saves the subject by roughening and skewing it, giving it the feel of authenticity (a little like antiquing a piece of furniture, perhaps). Shepherd conveys persuasively the way somebody can “fall from the sky” into your life and renew it utterly, giving you the home you’d been seeking for years.
By Reginald Shepherd
For Robert Philen
You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are
a concordance of person, number, voice,
and place, strawberries spread through your name
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,
when there was snow), you are my right,
have come to be my night (your body takes on
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep
becomes you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name
Reprinted from Fata Morgana by Reginald Shepherd, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2007 by Reginald Shepherd.
Source: Fata Morgana (2007)
Poet and editor Reginald Shepherd was born in New York City in 1963 and grew up in the Bronx. He earned a BA from Bennington College and studied at Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first collection, Some Are Drowning (1994), won the Associated Writing Program’s Award in Poetry; his fourth, Otherhood (2003), was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; and his last book, Fata Morgana (2007), won a Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards. Shepherd’s work is known for its elegance, beauty, and critical acumen. As Ron Silliman wrote in a tribute to Shepherd, who died in 2008, “Shepherd took from all schools and created something entirely his own.” Shepherd was the author of a book of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry (2008), and the editor of two anthologies, The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries (2004) and Lyric Postmodernisms (2008). He was also an active blogger, helping to shape an emerging forum for poetics.
March 20th, 2012 at 7:56 pm
What caused his death? 45 is only half a life.This is the first piece of his I have read. Not bad, though I don't pretend to understand what he meant by some of it, such as the "free of any eden" reference.
March 21st, 2012 at 2:39 am
Another introduction to a writer I did not know….and an early death…Sometimes we take life for granted until it is too late.Thanks for the posting. And great to read you in Spain!!
March 21st, 2012 at 8:22 am
Dave, he died of cancer. I can't say that I always understand the full meanings of the poems, but for me a lot of poetry is just about the beauty of the poems.Silvereagle, sometimes we do take life for granted, but I hope that you are having a great time in Spain.