A Poetry Reading At West Point by William Matthews
I read to the entire plebe class, in two batches. Twice the hall filled with bodies dressed alike, each toting a copy of my book. What would my shrink say, if I had one, about such a dream, if it were a dream?
Question and answer time. "Sir," a cadet yelled from the balcony, and gave his name and rank, and then, closing his parentheses, yelled "Sir" again. "Why do your poems give me a headache when I try
to understand them?" he asked. "Do you want that?" I have a gift for gentle jokes to defuse tension, but this was not the time to use it. "I try to write as well as I can what it feels like to be human,"
I started, picking my way care- fully, for he and I were, after all, pained by the same dumb longings. "I try to say what I don't know how to say, but of course I can't get much of it down at all."
By now I was sweating bullets. "I don't want my poems to be hard, unless the truth is, if there is a truth." Silence hung in the hall like a heavy fabric. My own head ached. "Sir," he yelled. "Thank you. Sir."