An Emeritus Addresses The School

by John Ciardi

John Ciardi

No one can wish nothing.
Even that death wish sophomores
are nouveau-glib about
reaches for a change of notice.

"I'll have you know," it will say
thirty years later to its son,
"I was once widely recognized
for the quality of my death wish."

That was before three years
of navel-reading with a guru
who reluctantly concluded
some souls are bank tellers;

perhaps more than one would think
at the altitude of Intro. Psych.,
or turned on to a first raga,
or joining Polyglots Anonymous.

One trouble with this year's
avant-garde is that it has already
taken it fifty years to be behind
the avant-garde of the twenties

with the Crash yet to come.
And even free souls buy wives,
fall in love with automobiles,
and marry a mortgage.

At fifty, semisustained by bourbon,
you wonder what the kids see
in that Galactic Twang
they dance the Cosmic Konk to.

You will have forgotten such energy,
its illusion of violent freedoms.
You must suffer memory
to understanding in the blare

of a music that tires you.
There does come a death wish,
but you will be trapped by your
begetting, love what you have given,

be left waiting in a noise
for the word that must be whispered.
No one can wish nothing. You can
learn to wish for so little

a word might turn you
all the bent ways to love, its mercies
practiced, its one day at a time
begun and lived and slept on and begun.

Collected Poems of John Ciardi

Last updated March 01, 2023