In Praise of Distances (a poem by Denis Johnson, from his book The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millenium General Assembly)

as the winter slips up under
the palms of my hands, it is getting
harder to be a poet: i am woe
itself. my car fades

without pain from the parking lot. it
crumples to one knee, like
an elephant, startled
into lifelessness by the hungry bullets of winter.
the graveyard wavers
distantly. the car will no longer stand

between me and the debts nuzzling
at my door. i will no longer go rattling
among the miles as if

distance were a safe thing, as if i slammed
the ancient car door
in the face of all the noises.
my wife tells me, why don’t you get
a job? but once i had a dog,

whose vital organs became
confused beneath his skin, until he died;
i will not leave this animal kingdom

until he comes back from the trees.
i will keep my nostrils
opened for the lonely jangle of his collar landing over the buildings

or for some sign that he will be returning.
my hands will not
be filled with advertisements; so

they will be filled with the difficulty
that is winter. if he is lost,
farmers hoping for spring will discover
his voice among the corn stalks,

seeking a safe place to lie
quietly down. as i wait for him
by the window,
i have the suspicion that the meaning of things
will never be sorted out.


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