This entry is part 32 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life


To hold the attention of a Sunday
school class, my brother said
he once had to eat a piece of chalk.
He never said what the lesson was about,
just that the chalk was tasteless
& thoroughly indigestible.

When Borges came to speak
at Penn State, he sat folded
into an easy chair on stage,
still as a lizard on a heat rock.
He quoted Basho to show
that metaphor isn’t essential—
the “ancient pond” haiku.
But as he delivered his pronouncements,
he kept smiling at something
three feet above our heads.
And seeing the smiles pass
across his blind face, we all
began to smile too,
pleased at our proximity
to such a famous solitude,
which we were sure
must’ve been flooded with light.

I’ve kept all the glass ashtrays
from when I used to smoke, lovely
as the windows of a church
in which I can no longer kneel.
Has it really been 12 years?
Borges said: Life is a dream,
to which someone in the audience objected:
That’s a metaphor!
No, he intoned, it’s the truth.
And for some reason
everyone broke out laughing.

Based on this post from August 2009.