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Published: Thu Apr 15 1999
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.

for Bill Matthews

Sound first, then a red tailfin veers
east between last autumn and tomorrow,
a half-moon rises in a bright blue sky
and the plane descends into Queens.

You are the 59th St. bridge, the Daily News
blossoming with stories determined to be read,
the syringes and spoons on this brutal beach
between the FDR and impossibility.

When thinking gets to be too hard
for its own calculations, an old blue
barge with the letter M in big print passes:
the river’s blessings or chronology?

This I know: every loss contains an irony.
A time to die, in Ecclesiastes,
highlights only what the living do,
not the timelessness you’re in.

Your gift: Juvenal’s rough satires,
the shrewd, slick speeches
of Shakespeare’s fools and bastards,
and a directive to write unusually and brief.

How do we feel legitimate in our hearts?
We are never well-read or loved enough.
Every man is Richard, and every kingdom
evasive as these white clouds.

A generous seagull opens its wings
to read, fluttering in its fiction
of tranquillity. Its movements mirror
your example: to listen and to think.

Noisy salute: a helicopter propels its wreaths
of sorrow into the afternoon, from this perspective
equally convex and concave, like the uncertain
lessons of paperbacks; but you can take them with you.

See what's inside AGNI 49

Diane Mehta is the author of the poetry collection Forest with Castanets (Four Way Books, 2019). She received a 2020 Spring Literature Grant from the Café Royale Cultural Foundation for her nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Common, AGNI, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Southern Humanities Review, The New York Times, The Paris Review Daily, The Literary Review, Prairie SchoonerSubtropics, The Believer, BOMB, and Foreign Policy. She is also the author of How to Write Poetry (Spark Publishing, 2008). Connect on Twitter: @DianeMehta. (updated 4/2021)

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