Poem of the Week | April 30, 2008
Jericho Brown: "To Be Seen"
This week’s poem is “To Be Seen” by Jericho Brown. It is previously unpublished. Brown worked as speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before receiving his Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. He also holds an M.F.A. from the University of New Orleans and a B.A. from Dillard University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review, jubilat, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, and several other journals and anthologies. The recipient of a Cave Canem Fellowship, two scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and two travel fellowships to the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland, Brown serves as an Assistant Editor at Callaloo and teaches creative writing as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of San Diego. His first book, Please, will be published by New Issues in the November of 2008.
“Writing Please, my first book, made it clear to me that I’d have to create a hyper-extended version of myself, that no matter how sonically or syntactically exciting the language of the poems were, readers had to feel that they were becoming acquainted with a personality of boundless proportions. I created a man who had seen everything I’ve seen but who articulated each of those experiences in a much more interesting way than I could in a conversation. He is, at turns, a hyperbolic, subtle bastard. He doesn’t get any of the stories right, but goddammit if he doesn’t star in every one of them. Looking at that guy now, I want to shake my head at him, and I want to hold his hand.”
To Be Seen
You will forgive me if I carry the tone of a preacher.
Surely, you understand, a man in the midst of dying
Must have a point, which is not to say that I am dying
Exactly. My doctor tells me I might live
Longer than most, since I see him more than most.
Of course, he cannot be trusted nor can any man
Who promises you life based on his being seen.
Understand also, then, that a point and a message are
Indeed quite different. All messages issue forth from
The chosen: a prophet, an angel, the whitest
Dove — those who hear the voice of God and other
Good music. A point, on the other hand, is made
By one who chooses but claims to have been chosen
So as not to be punished for bringing bad news:
The preacher, the poet, my doctor — those who talk
About God because they want to speak in metaphors.
My doctor, for instance, insists on the metaphor of war;
It’s always the virus that attacks and the cells that fight or
Die fighting. I even remember him saying the word siege
When another rash returned. Here I am dying
While he makes a battle of my body — anything to be seen
When all he really means is to grab me by the chin
And, like God the Father, say through clenched teeth,
Look at me when I’m talking to you. Your healing is
Not in my hands, though I touch as if to make you whole.
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