Michael Van Walleghen's Poetry


There is nothing so beautiful as that which does not exist

Paul Val'ry, The Art of Poetry

After I got out of the Navy
I loafed at home for awhile
then enrolled myself in college--

I wanted to make something of myself--
become an accountant like my cousin

or, sweet Jesus, a lawyer. But somehow
(who knows what happens to our dreams?)
I found myself writing poems instead.

I was taking a class in poetry writing
and wrote whenever I could-all night

after my job loading trucks sometimes
at a card table down in the basement-
But when the sun came up, how odd

how astonishing it was, to realize
that time had simply disappeared!

And there, in front of me, timeless
for all I knew, the night-born poem:
"Seabent," I remember one beginning

"with slowly beating wings
the sunwashed seabirds pass-"

Reading it out loud made me dizzy
and I carried it around in my pocket
for days-although, at the same time

what I really felt soared impatiently
beyond words somehow. "Sunwashed

seabirds?" What kind were they exactly?
And where in that truck-loading life
had I stood enthralled to watch them?

Some snot-beaked, garbage-eating gulls
down by the Detroit river maybe--

Or, in the Navy, those creaky albatross
I'd tossed Tabasco-sauced bread to
from the fantail of our ship. Mindless

and cruel, beauty was the last thing
I think I would have ever thought of.

So why was I thinking of it now
and staying up all night to find it?
Whatever it was that made the hair

on the back of my arms stand up
and that darkness in the window

in the merest blinking of an eye
to somehow disappear-leaving me
at a card table in an old coal bin

with one bare bulb hanging down-
I can remember thinking, even then

how it could have been a jail cell
a room where prisoners were tortured
the last place on God's grim earth

where poetry might happen. And yet
now and then, rising up from nowhere

on slowly beating wings, something-
I knew there was something, born
perhaps of the heart's pure yearning

that would save my life: Beauty
the name for those birds was Beauty.