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profile/robert-polito.md
Published: Sun Oct 15 1989
Wosene Worke Kosrof, The Inventor V (detail), 2022, acrylic on linen. Courtesy of Sullivan Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara, California
Doubles

I fancy myself an enigma.
_           _On my best days
I manage to keep the world off-guard—
_           _What I say
Does not follow from what I said yesterday.
_           _Or the message in my clothes
Is somehow inconsistent with my face—
_           _A banker’s striped suit
Under shades and a flashy pompadour.

_           _Around me
People must continually readjust;
_           _I force them
Always to approach me on my own terms—
_           _Only I keep
Changing those terms, keep shifting ground.
_           _Around me
The angle of incidence does not equal
_           _The angle of reflection.

It’s not that I have any secrets,
_           _Or a secret life;
If anything, my life’s what’s left in the shell
_           _After the clam’s been eaten—
So I arrange to have many lives, many stories,
_           _All of them plausible
—Taken one by one—but not quite adding up.
_           _It’s a lot of work,
Yet the looks I get, the odd questions I’m asked,

_           _Would repay any trouble . . .
Sometimes when I’m very tired I think
_           _How nice it must be
Just to trot out this year’s model and keep him there.
_           _But then I remember
What I’ve gained: to be all men at once,
_           _Without being anyone—
And I recall the danger too: staying put is like asking
_           _The world to do you in.

But these aren’t real issues anymore.
_           _All problems stopped
Right after my order was delivered from the Institute,
_           _Two huge bundles
Wrapped tight in black paper and cold to touch—
_           _My contact had insisted
“One to a customer,” but I cheated a bit,
_           _Claimed I was twins,
Identical twins, so he sent a pair.

_           _Unpacked, released
From their tubs of dry ice, even as they stood
_           _Frozen and immobile
I could see they were marvels: whole, self-
_           _Sustaining universes
Of cells spun from two of mine, my equals down to
_           _The last hair and birthmark;
And thawed, breathing freely, they lacked only a history.
_           _—Such details

Are absorbed more easily than you’d think:
_           _Like me, they’re fast
Studies; hardly a week of pleasantly intense
_           _Afternoons goes by,
And provided with the necessary names,
_           _A few photographs,
Some not entirely congruent “facts,” and the basic
_           _Rules of presentation,
They seem more emphatically me than I’ve ever felt.

_           _I have great plans for us—
One I’m coaching so that soon
_           _He’ll be a star;
Every night in clubs he gets applause for singing my songs:
_           _“When the smack
Begins to flow then I really don’t care anymore.”
_           _Or “Every time I phone you
I just want to put you down”—exhilarating words,
_           _So angry and bitter

I’d be afraid to say them in real life.
_           _The other’s
Just received his second promotion at the bank,
_           _And there’s talk
He’ll be a vice president before he’s forty . . .
_           _But I don’t have to do anything.
I can read all night, listen to records, or drink,
_           _Without worrying
Whether I’ll be able to go to work in the morning.

_           _It doesn’t matter
If I get up, or what I eat, or how I look—
_           _I’m completely free.
No matter what I do, my life goes on without me!
_           _Sometimes in disguise
I visit them—to check up or keep in touch—
_           _And request a song, or a loan.
They usually indulge me. Has any father
_           _Ever been this proud?

And always I’m amazed at how effortlessly they handle
_           _All that I’ve found impossible—
Through long distracting lunches with my mother
_           _They smile and hold their tempers;
They remember birthdays, keep appointments, pay bills;
_           _I’m never feeling well,
But they’re healthy—moderate habits, exercise, periodic
_           _Trips to a doctor.
In their hands, my life positively hums.

_           _Yes, things are looking up.
I sense that everyone is talking about us.
_           _Word’s come back to me
That the inevitable double sighting has taken place . . .
_           _Imagine trying to explain that.
And in the paper I see that one of us has broken
_           _Off an engagement—
That’s the spirit! She’s not good enough,
_           _Hold out for bigger stakes!

I joke—what could make me happier?
_           _One of us
Must settle down soon and start a family;
_           _What we have
Is too rich, too perfect just to pass away.
_           _But I want the last
Word here too: when I die, I’ve asked them to bury me
_           _Quietly, anonymously,
And go on as if nothing’s happened.

See what's inside AGNI 28

Robert Polito’s most recent books are the poetry collection Hollywood & God and Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber. He has also edited The Selected Poems of Kenneth Fearing (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1983) for the Library of America. He directs the Graduate Writing Program at The New School in New York City. (updated 4/2012)

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