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“I sink back upon the ground…” by David Ignatow

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Have you ever been in the middle of things, not knowing which way to go? Do I move forward, do I turn back. Do I go left, do I go right. I oscillate between this choice and the other, turning and turning in place, which in itself is a decision, isn’t it.

When I encounter turns in a poem, I feel the most delicious thrill. This is not a failure, this is a discovery. I have arrived at the centre, and now we are going to turn. Do we move forward, do we turn back. Do we go left, do we go right. Do we delve in between the lines in search for the truth, and is it a truth that will matter?

The poem turns, and I’m either moved or not moved. Most of the time, moved. Most of the time, moved spectacularly, which finds me on my knees supplicating, more of this, yes, more of this.

Day by day again, I arrive at the turning point. Do I get up or not get up. Do I live or not live. Do I let the body love what it loves, do I let the mind pay attention, do I lift my face from my hands, do I try being human for at least one more day?

The poem and the world turns, both.

“I sink back upon the ground…”
David Ignatow

I sink back upon the ground, expecting to die. A voice speaks out of my ear, You are not going to die, you are being changed into a zebra. You will have black and white stripes up and down your back and you will love people as you do not now. That is why you will be changed into a zebra that people will tame and exhibit in a zoo. You will be a favorite among children and you will love the children in return whom you do not love now. Zoo keepers will make a pet of you because of your round, sad eyes and musical bray, and you will love your keeper as you do not now. All is well, then, I tell myself silently, listening to the voice in my ear speak to me of my future. And what will happen to you, voice in my ear, I ask silently, and the answer comes at once: I will be your gentle, musical bray that will help you as a zebra all your days. I will mediate between the world and you, and I will learn to love you as a zebra whom I did not love as a human being.

This is from Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, edited by David Lehman, published by Scribner Poetry, 2003.

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