Invitation Paul Guest, I am looking forward to your birthday and the long chain of fitful celebrations that will follow and be broken by something like inconsiderate death or the envelope of oblivion. Paul Guest, I’m looking forward to your arrival, your flight, your train, your steamer rocking in on a lucky wave. When will you be here, Paul Guest, with your combs and pockets and mad fits of despair? Paul Guest, when will you ever be happy? When will you sign treaties and agreements and accords and truces tied up with ribbon, when will you decide to live peaceably with yourself, Paul Guest? When will you open cans of soup that would have kept forever, forever in their vacuums of salt, and stir them on to a fire and think yourself at last an imposter under the grave stars no more? When will you fall asleep and be full and not long for a distant woman, your words no signposts for the way back to wherever you were, Paul Guest? What will you say, Paul Guest? No one knows. No one ever has spoken the right thing or walked away not hating his mouth for the sake of the air that was in it, that wouldn’t take shape, keep it, or at least fall into quiet, which is an endless water. Paul Guest, you have tried to vanish a thousand times, Paul Guest.
Is this a birthday letter? one asks while reading Paul Guest’s ‘Invitation’, a short poem sent yesterday in Paris Review’s newsletter. The author’s name distracts you as it shares the name of the person being addressed by the letter, but let’s assume it’s a letter to one’s self, in the same way a diary works as a means to communicate to oneself and to archive the past. The letter anticipates for something: a birthday, an arrival, a desire for satisfaction, status and solitude, for authenticity, a desire to tame that desire for a ‘distant’ woman, a desire to forget regrets. And then the line: “What will you say, Paul Guest? / No one knows.” Perhaps the “grave” in the phrase “an imposter under the grave stars” is a prelude? Perhaps falling asleep and being full is all about that anticipation, botched a thousand times? Perhaps this is written by someone from the future peering at the past, the plot already known, and all that has been said and unsaid known but withheld (by something a lot like “the envelope of oblivion”). It’s a different kind of birthday, but a celebration nonetheless?