David Kirby

David Kirby Poems

The two musicians pour forth their souls abroad
in such an ecstasy as to charm the audience
like none I've ever seen before, and when

Poetry does make things happen. A friend says, "I wanted
to let you know that my stepfather is chattering like
a schoolboy about a poem of yours on my Facebook page.
This may not seem like much to you, but this guy has been

That's what my mother and her sisters used to say
on the porch late at night when they thought I wasn't
listening: He said he had to travel so much because
his job was in sales, but come to find out he had a wife
and a whole other family in Breaux Bridge or he said
he was a captain and got wounded in the war; come to
find out he never rose above private and damn sure

never saw active service, excuse the language.
Come to Find Out meant that something was going
to be revealed and in that way was a cousin to All Is
Not As It Seems and One Thing Led to Another,
which suggests that the second thing reveals or
in some way at least echoes the first. And then there
was What Was I Thinking, the answer to which

was almost always You Weren't, though sometimes
you were: she's not very bright so I'll have my way
with her or he'll stay home and keep house and I'll pay
the bills or who needs health insurance. What'd you
think, those babies were going to feed
themselves and change their own diapers? Oh, if only
life were like the opera, where you can say what

you think about somebody while you're standing
right next to them, yet they don't seem to hear you.
Actually, a better verb is "sing": apparently you can
mouth the most wounding insults and get away without
being slapped or stabbed as long as you dress them
in eighth-note triplets. Art says to us, What do you
want to be true, and then it gives us all these choices:

you can do whatever you like or, if you prefer,
nothing at all. No wonder some people hate it,
though I say, Thank you, art! Thank you, opera, plays,
movies, things you hang on a wall or put on a pedestal!
Thank you, poems of every length, from the Inferno
to a haiku, provided the haiku poet puts as much time
into his or her poem as Dante put into his! Which seems

unlikely, but we're trying to uphold standards here,
right, reader? Thank you, symphony orchestras
and flash mobs—what could be better than going to
your local Walmart to buy a sack of onions, some puppy
biscuits, and a carton of smokes only to be surprised
by a guy pulling a sax out of a box and being joined
by a woman with a bassoon, three string players,

and a twenty-person chorus who launch into "Ode to Joy,"
an 1785 Friedrich Schiller poem that becomes the final
movement of the Ninth Symphony by celebrated German
composer/pianist Ludwig van Beethoven! It's 1796 now,
and come to find out Beethoven's losing his hearing,
possibly from typhus, systemic lupus erythematosus,
or even his habit of immersing his head in cold water

to stay awake. He stops performing, though he continues
to compose. He also avoids conversation. Talk is cheap!
He digs in, though, writes the Fifth Symphony that begins
with the four most famous notes in musical history, notes
that, as he himself said, sound like Fate knocking
at the door. Then another symphony and another
and another still, till he writes the Ninth, the one whose

opening fanfare is said to have put a lump even
in Hitler's throat. Come to find out art works the same
way on everybody; you could be a pirate or a headsman
or the pope or the owner of a dry cleaning establishment
and still laugh as Punch and Judy throw pots and pans
at each other, weep when the soprano sings
of the lover, the land, the mother she'll never see again.

Everybody's got a story, and half the time there's a story
behind the story, and in half of the cases that are like that,
we'll never know what it is. But you can go your whole
day without hearing any music at all, and then you can
talk to or buy a carton of tomatoes from or just pass by
somebody who has; one thing leads to another in this
world, and the next thing you know, you're happy.

Rilke said he wanted a room "with a few old things
and a window opening onto great trees," which makes
me think of my favorite rooms and their furnishings,
an obvious choice being this brightly-lit bedroom,
newspapers and coffee cups on the floor, bedclothes
scattered everywhere, perfumed with the smell
of sex, maybe, or maybe not. And if not, okay;

they've smelled of sex before and will again.
Well, probably. As Fats Waller said, "One never
knows, do one?" Then there's the kitchen with
a pizza in a blazing oven, perhaps, or a risotto
bubbling while you chop salad and blast Big Jack
Johnson on a pair of tinny speakers. Then it's off
to the dining room and Chopin while you eat

your jambalaya or cassoulet or whatever it was
you cooked, and now the living room, a fire
toppling as you sip eau de vie and toy with a cigar
and listen to Penderecki's Symphony no. 3,
the one he wrote for the war dead, the words sung
by soprano Dawn Upshaw, whose voice enters
the music so gradually that you don't realize

someone is singing until she all but cries out in joy
or terror, you're not sure which. Now you're
in the space between image and idea where Keats
spent his happiest hours, skating back and forth
between some old book in your hand
and your memories of other books, of things you did
when you were a kid or even last week and things

other people told you they did, of your mother
and father, lovers you might have
treated better and ones who might have been nicer to you,
friends you broke with even though
you can't remember a single one,
historical figures—silly ones, like Thomas Taylor
the Platonist, who invented a "perpetual lamp" fueled

by oil, salt, and phosphorus that exploded during
his demonstration of it at the Freemasons'
Tavern in 1785 which, he noted ruefully, raised
a prejudice against the device "which could never
afterwards be removed," and merry ones, like
Don Juan of Austria who, just before the battle
of Lepanto, was seized by "a fit of exuberance

beyond rational thought" and danced a galliard
on the gun-platform of the command vessel
to the music of fifes. And all the while you're thinking
of tomorrow and of the things you have to do
and the ones you want to do, and you wonder
if it'd be better to have a list to make sure you don't
forget anything or if it'd be better just to get up

and start working and in that way do the thing you
weren't expecting to do, the one that doesn't
appear on any list or even in your mind as you
were dozing, waking, dozing again, the idea
that enters you like a cry in the night—one minute
you're at a table in a tavern with your friends, it seems,
and the next, you're in the street, saying, Now what?

David Kirby Biography

David Kirby (born 1944) is an American poet and the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University (FSU). His most recent book is Talking about Movies with Jesus, published in 2011 by LSU Press. His new and selected poetry collection, The House on Boulevard St. (Louisiana State University Press), was nominated for the 2007 National Book Award in poetry. Kirby has published over 20 books, including collections of poetry, and literary criticism, and his poems frequently appear in The Southern Review. His collected earlier poems, up to the transitional Big-Leg Music, have been published as I Think I Am Going to Call My Wife Paraguay. His earliest books of verse, Sarah Bernhardt's Leg (1983) and Saving the Young Men of Vienna (1987, winner of the Brittingham Prize), showed the distinctive mixture of lyricism and wit that can be found in his later work, which began in Big-Leg Music (1995). In that collection, Kirby began presenting what he termed "memory poems," freewheeling, associative verse with long lines in shaped stanzas that give play to his interests in high and popular culture, are informed by personal and cultural experiences in the author's life, and present, under the guise of apparent ingenuousness, an array of literary and cultural theories wittily and succinctly stated—all making what the poet and critic Peter Klappert has termed "the Kirby poem." Kirby's later titles in this vein include My Twentieth Century, The House of Blue Light, and The Travelling Library. His volume, The Ha-Ha was chosen one of ten "Best Books of 2003" by Boston Globe critic Clea Simon,[1] and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. His work has won numerous awards, including four Pushcart Prizes, the James Dickey Prize, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Kirby obtained his Ph.D. in 1969 from Johns Hopkins University. He lives with his wife and fellow poet Barbara Hamby in Tallahassee, Florida. Kirby has taught at FSU's international campuses in Florence, Paris, Valencia, and elsewhere.)

The Best Poem Of David Kirby

Get Up, Please

The two musicians pour forth their souls abroad
in such an ecstasy as to charm the audience
like none I've ever seen before, and when
they finish, they rise and hug each other,
and then the tabla player bends down
and touches the feet of the santoor player in an obvious gesture

of respect, but what does it mean? I don't find out
until the next day at the Econolodge in Tifton, GA,
where I stop on my way home after the concert
and ask Mrs. Patel, the owner, if she has ever heard
of these two musicians or knows
anything about the tabla and the santoor and especially the latter,

which looks like the love child of a typewriter
and a hammered dulcimer only with a lot of extra wires
and tuning posts, and she doesn't seem to understand
my questions, though when I ask her about one person touching
the other's feet and then bend down
to show her, she lights up and says, "It means he thinks the other

is a god. My children do this before they go off
to school in the morning, as though to say, ‘Mummy,
you are a god to us,'' and I look at her
for a second and then surprise us both when I say, "Oh, Mrs. Patel!"
and burst into tears, because I think,
first, of my own dead parents and then of little Lakshmi and Padma

Patel going off to their classes in Tift County schools,
the one a second-grader who is studying homophones
("I see the sea") and the other of whom is in the fourth
grade, where she must master long division with
its cruel insistence on numbers lined
up under one another with exacting precision and then crawling

toward the page's bottom as you, the divider, subtract
and divide again and again, all the while recording
on the top line an answer that grows increasingly
lengthy as you fret and chew the tip of your pencil
and persevere, though before they grab
their books and lunch boxes and pile onto the bus, they take time

to touch Mrs. Patel's feet and Mr. Patel's as well,
assuming there is such a person. Later my friend
Avni tells me you touch the feet of your elders
to respect the distance they have traveled
and the earth they have touched, and you
say "namaste"not because you take yoga at that little place

on the truck route between the t-shirt store
and the strip club but because it means "I bow
to the light within you," and often the people being
bowed to will stoop down and collect you as if to say
"You too are made of the same light!"
Reader, if your parents are alive, think of them now, of all the gods

whose feet you never touched or touched enough.
And if not your parents, then someone else.
You know someone like this, right? Someone who belongs
to the "mighty dead,' as Keats called them.
Don't you wish that person were here now
so you could touch their feet and whisper, "You are my god"?

I can't imagine Keats saying, "You too are made
of the same light," though I can see him saying,
as he did to Fanny Brawne, "I have been astonished
that Men could die Martyrs for religion—I have
shudder'd at it—I shudder no more—I could
be martyr'd for my Religion—Love is my religion—I could die for that—

I could die for you." My own feet have touched
the earth nearly three times as long as Keats's did,
and I'm hardly the oldest person
I know. So let this poem brush across the feet of anyone
who reads it. Poetry is
my religion—well, I wouldn't die for it. I'd live for it, though.

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