by Kenneth Koch
Where did you come from, lamentable quality?
Before I had a life you were about to ruin my life.
The mystery of this stays with me.
“Don’t brood about things,” my elders said.
I hadn’t any other experience of enemies from inside.
They were all from outside—big boys
Who cursed me and hit me; motorists; falling trees.
All these you were as bad as, yet inside. When I spoke, you were there.
I could avoid you by singing or acting.
I acted in school plays but was no good at singing.
Immediately after the play you were there again.
You ruined the cast party.
You were not a sign of confidence.
You were not a sign of manliness.
You were stronger than good luck and bad; you survived them both.
You were slowly edged out of my throat by psychoanalysis
You who had been brought in, it seems, like a hired thug
To beat up both sides and distract them
From the main issue: oedipal love. You were horrible!
Tell them, now that you’re back in your thug country,
That you don’t have to be so rough next time you’re called in
But can be milder and have the same effect—unhappiness and pain.
Last updated December 19, 2022