The Best American Poetry 1997by James Tate
Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, The Best American Poetry is the one indispensable volume for readers eager to follow what's new in poetry today. Sales continue to grow and plaudits keep coming in for this "high-voltage testament to the vitality of American poetry" (Booklist). Selected by prizewinning guest editor James Tate, the seventy-five best poems of the year were chosen from more than three dozen magazines and range from the comic to the cosmic, from the contemplative to the sublime. In addition to showcasing our leading bards -- such as John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Robert Hass, and Mark Strand -- the collection marks an auspicious debut for eye-opening younger poets. With comments from the poets themselves offering insights into their work, The Best American Poetry 1997 delivers the startling and imaginative writing that more and more people have come to expect from this prestigious series.
Read an Excerpt
Back in the World
I took a shortcut through blood
to get back to you,
but the house where I left you is empty now.
You've packed up and moved on,
leaving this old photograph of the two of us,
taken before I left for Viet Nam.
You've cut yourself out of it,
torn your half in pieces
and lain them on the mantel,
where your knickknacks used to be:
those godawful Hummels you'd been saving for years
and a small glass vial you said
contained your grandmother's tears.
A thick film of dust comes off on my fingers,
when I rub them across the years that came to separate us.
In a corner of the living room, facing a wall,
I find my last painting of you.
In it, you lie, naked, on the old iron bed,
your head hanging over the side,
your hair, flowing to the floor
like a wide black river.
There, Max, the cat, is curled
in a grey, purring blur,
all fur and gooseberry green eyes that stare at me,
as if accusing me of some indiscretion
he doesn't dare mention.
Suddenly, he meows loudly
and rises as if he's been spooked,
runs through the house,
then swoops back to his place beside you,
and beside the night table,
on which I've painted a heart on a white plate,
and a knife and fork on a red checkered napkin.
You hate the painting. You say I'm perverse
to paint you that way, and worse, an amateur.
"Do you want to tear my heart out and eat it
like those Aztecs used to do,
so you can prove you don't need me?" you ask.
"But I do need you," I say. "That's the point."
"I don't get it," you say,
as you dress for some party
you claim you are going to, but I'm on to your game.
It's your lover who's waiting for you.
"I know who he is," I say,
"but I don't know his name,"
then I run to the bathroom,
grab a handful of Trojans
and throw them at you,
as you slam the door on me,
before I can slam it on you.
You don't come back, until you get word
that I've enlisted in the army.
I'm packing when you show up.
"You heard," I say
and you tell me that it's perverse of me too.
"Who are you kidding, you, a soldier?
And what's that?" you ask.
I give you the small canvas I've just finished.
"A sample of my new work," I say.
"There's nothing on it," you say.
"That's right," I tell you. "It's white like the plate,
after I ate your heart."
"Don't start," you say, "don't."
We part with a brief kiss like two strangers
who miss the act of pressing one mouth
against another, yet resist, resist.
We part on a day just like this,
a day that seems as if it will never end,
in an explosion that sends my body
flying through the air
in the white glare of morning,
when without warning, I step on a landmine
and regain consciousness to find
I'm a notation on a doctor's chart that says,
Now I imagine myself racing through the house
just as Max did once,
only to return to myself, to the bed,
the night table, the canvas in my lap
and my brush, poised above it.
When Max, toothless and so old,
his hair comes out in clumps, when I touch him,
half sits, half collapses beside my wheelchair,
I begin to paint, first a black background,
then starting from the left side,
a white line, beside a red line
beside a white, beside a red,
each one getting smaller and smaller,
until they disappear off the edge of the canvas.
I title it "Amateur."
I call it art.
from Quarterly West
Copyright © 1997 by David Lehman
Foreword copyright © 1997 by David Lehman
Introduction copyright © 1997 by James Tate
Meet the Author
David Lehman, series editor of The Best American Poetry, is also the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry. His books of poetry include New and Selected Poems, When a Woman Loves a Man, and The Daily Mirror. He teaches in the New School graduate writing program and lives in New York City and Ithaca, New York.
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