Home > Poetry > Self-Portrait with Critic
Published: Sun Apr 15 2001
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Self-Portrait with Critic

One idiot took me for a Vietnam vet.
“You have that tattooed damaged look.”

Other descriptions? Jaded, pent-up,
wrathful, loyal, swerving toward hysteria.

Anyway, that’s how she put me together.
She was a polyp in the clandestine tale

of what holes we are, what a factory
of piecework, stitched together

with bad wardrobes and bartered expressions.
To look at me, I hurt seems past tense,

synthesized into a gaze that drifts toward stable.
But passing is nobody’s business, who you are

is a secret to everyone, that’s American
as being an exception, believing in

your own invention, tinkering around
in a minor key, since no one’s listening.

And inside, let’s not make it pretty,
let’s save the off-rhyme and onomatopoeia

for the concert hall, let’s go to the wormy place
where the problematic stirs inside his head,

something’s jumbled inside the cells,
something chemical sticking to the walls

where the doctor looks down your throat,
down the tunnel where you sleep and wash up,

where you can’t get over how dogs spar
with their masters, how Contras could tear

a newspaper in two and then bury the nuns.
Anyway, you can see how a sentence

might tear the heart out of someone,
closing in on and looking down at the mess

from some trim square of property
that’s busily employed and invested

in making things work, with an ardor
and intensity that slips away into the ethereal,

all the while reciting some butchered version
of The Ancient Mariner, humming in your head

The Pavanne for a Dead Princess,
because you lean toward the luxurious,

the artful, the second-hand, once-removed.

See what's inside AGNI 53

Ira Sadoff is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently True Faith (BOA Editions, 2012); a novel; a book of critical essays; and The Ira Sadoff Reader (Middlebury College Press, 1992), an anthology of stories, poems, and essays. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tin House, The New Yorker, AGNI, The American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, he lives in Ulster County, New York. (updated 10/2018)

Sadoff’s AGNI poem “Self-Portrait with Critic” was chosen for The Best American Poetry 2002.

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