An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2009


Matthew Dickman
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Matthew Dickman is the author of All-American Poem, winner of the 2008 APR/Honickman first book prize from The American Poetry Review and Copper Canyon Press, as well as the 2009 Kate Tufts Discovery Prize. His work has recently appeared in Tin HouseThe Boston ReviewThe American Poetry ReviewDossier magazine, and The New Yorker. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon. He is among the recipients of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences's Poetry Prize.


© 2009 by Matthew Dickman

No angel blazing in rapture above my bed, you have been
as common as a swing
set, and I have been the child running toward you
from the sandbox. I felt your heart beating in the white tunic
I wore at mass
and watched the priest pass you out in little wafers of bread.
Whenever I set out to find you, on a park bench
or in pop songs, I am never so far
as the skull is from the brain.
When, in fact, have I ever been without you?
You sat politely on the couch, never directing or reproaching,
while I was losing my virginity, 13 October 1993,
and you stood on the shore
the night I walked into the ocean, deep enough
to cover my shoulders–
not teasing death, just exchanging names.
On New Year’s Eve, when I saw twelve men dressed as Santa Claus,
drinking bourbon, I thought you had gone crazy,
and when my brother and I sat
at the hotel bar in Los Angeles, drinking beer
served to us by a bartender named Jesús,
I thought you were funny. People come back
from the dead so they can talk about you, the light at the end
of the hall, the feeling of weightlessness.
In the thirteenth century you pulled your clothes off
and showed yourself for the bloody mess
you could be. As time went by you drifted from Rome
and hid yourself
in the Survival of The Fittest; scientists found you
in tailbones and fossils. Darwin laughed in your face.
Bonhoeffer and Merton
have sat at your table and almost all of the twentieth century
has checked your coat, shined your shoes.
What would life be without you, our great compensation for suffering,
bound to earth
with a handful of stars, a moon? Biting into a cold piece
of watermelon, the mirror
whenever I dropped acid, trigonometry and lakes,
Einstein’s eyebrows, in every orgasm, insect, honeycomb,
each blade of grass,
and John’s Book of Revelation,
there you are
dressed to the nines in a top hat and gloves,
ready for all hell to break loose.