Home > Poetry > The Vicarious Experience
Published: Thu Apr 15 1982
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
The Vicarious Experience

I want you to tell me about the beach this evening,
As if I were blind or deaf. I want you to describe
The balance of the thin-leafed sea oats and the eel grass
Bending in the wind. I want to know about the occasional
Yaupon and everything you see feeding there and all the details
Of the railroad vines and their purple flowers, and the deep
Black crab-tunnels at their bases on the dunes.

I want to see what you see when you look away from land,
Every striation of the sky defined by color, the stationary
Motions of the sea. I want you to name the sea birds
One by one and describe the patterns of their wings unfolding
And tell me how they look to you against the sky,
And on the beach, how they have learned to follow the edges
Of the sea and what it is you think they find there
In that toe-deep surf. I want to know what you hear
When you hear them call and what you think it might mean
If those same cries should be heard suddenly far away
From the sea, in the high thin silence of a mountain night
Above the timberline.

I want to know what you imagine of the brindled
Tern after it becomes the recognized brindled tern
And what you imagine of the beach pea after it becomes
The beach pea for certain and what you envision when you see
The great, black skimmer gulls with their lowered beaks slicing
Light-thin slices through the sea.

Then you might tell me what it would be like
If we should stop together beside the rocks, what strange
Glinting turn of green at the bottom of the sea, what black line
Veering across the parting stripes of the sky, what multiple
Light-thin facets of the surf your eyes might see then
Closed against my hair. And I want to know what you think
It might mean if the wind should keep pushing and blowing
Even around the quiet of those leeward rocks, even around
The edges of your body pressed against the sky, even around
The cries you might imagine to be rising from someone else
Far away in the thin-hollowed silence of another beach.

I want to know if being close enough with the proper intentions
It might be possible for me to hear all the sounds
You make the ocean make inside the silence of your ear.
I want to know all of these things. I want to learn,
One way or another.

See what's inside AGNI 16

Pattiann Rogers has published eleven books of poetry, most recently Wayfare (Penguin, 2008). A collection of essays, The Grand Array, is also forthcoming from Trinity University Press. The recipient of numerous awards, including the Tietjens Prize and the Hokin Prize and four Pushcarts, Rogers currently lives in Colorado with her husband. (updated 6/2010)

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