An envelope of oblivion


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?

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