You, Therefore

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.

You, Therefore
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)

Reginald Shepherd

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.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

3 responses to “You, Therefore

  • Dave

    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.

  • silvereagle

    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!!

  • JoeBlow

    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.

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