Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks




In the belly of Port Jefferson ferry
the biker varooms! his bellowing engine
while I think of Marcus Aurelius
who wrote, Wipe out the imagination.
It’s a signal for other leather jackets
to start their bikes, a warning–Varoom!–
to anyone who thinks that just
because these tough specimens are fifty
if they’re a day, they’ll obey the rules
about waiting. I wait, ready in my neat
suburban wagon for the ferry’s nose
to open on the last few miles of a trip
that wasn’t anywhere special. The biker
is far from home, I suppose, but I’m
much too close. He and his friends
stood at the bar the whole crossing
with black jackets on, boasting about
whose cycle was the cat’s meow and whose
city Atlantic was. One tough woman
with Steel Pier spelled in stars on the back
of her jacket said, “Fucking desire,”
again and again while I waited in line
for a beer. They’re making the salt air
sour with fumes. They’re making this belly
roar. There must be twenty bikers down there,
varooming! their hearts to a standstill.

Fucking desire. I wonder if Aurelius
was at home or living in a tent
on some campaign, when he wrote about
contentment with everything that happens?
I imagine these bikers will roar
the hill from Port Jefferson, will fly
along the spine of Long Island, like a line
of tough crows. I’ll get gas on the road home,
thinking of the bones in that woman’s face
when she said, “Fucking desire,” remembering
the Emperor Aurelius who wrote, Wipe out
imagination. Check desire. Extinguish

Poet’s Commentary:

“This is a poem, I guess, simply and precisely about appetite; about irony as well; about self-understanding, perhaps.”

*Reproduced with the permission of Jack Coulehan.

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