Poetry | ‘On Not Having Written King Lear’ & ‘Dinner in Xanadu’ by Michael Lavers | Issue 37 (Jan, 2021)

On Not Having Written King Lear

I don’t have to tell you what it’s like: you know.

It’s just like never having written Middlemarch 

or walked on the moon. You know that most 

people have never written Middlemarch

or walked on the moon and yet still get to eat jam

and toast, and stroll with their beloveds

past the cemetery, over the bridge to Main Street.

You know that what you can’t do is also worth

celebrating as a source of relief or gratitude,

that love comes only from not being the same

as what you love, that everyone is just one person

and cannot step out of themselves and be

everywhere, as the ponderous afternoon light

that is falling and slightly pink is everywhere.

It’s Saturday. So many people have come out 

to browse the lonely shops, happy to just look, 

to do nothing. But that’s something, 

just as our beloved promising that this 

wrecked wicker armchair can be saved and made 

to catch the light again is something: proof 

our love is good enough, our masterpiece 

to see, to feel awe, at anything,

to let our dumb-struck silence make things whole.  

Dinner in Xanadu

How relieved we were when the man from Duluth

said the beluga-tongue soup was good, but not as good

as the dandelion soup he’d had one summer

as a child in Labrador. And when the Finnish twins

said how they missed the way, back home,

the sorrows of strangers would become their sorrows,

we all nodded while the next course was prepared

in front of us: white cobra hatchlings drowned in wine.

Then the Sri Lankan asked the waiters

where the master was, saying that only he

could teach us how to stomach these new joys, 

how to prefer them to familiar griefs. 

But there was no reply: only a sound like weeping 

coming from the master’s room. And so 

we kept on eating: squirrel-tongue mousse,

poached emu eggs, a butterfly confit.

Maybe tomorrow would be better: black swan

stuffed with songbirds, and the bee wine at peak fizz.

And maybe not. Maybe the present always

has to be endured, even in paradise. Maybe

what’s gone is always brighter than what is.

Michael Lavers teaches poetry at Brigham Young University, Utah. He is the author of After Earth, published by the University of Tampa Press. His poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, 32 Poems, The Hudson Review, Best New Poets 2015, TriQuarterly, and the Georgia Review. He lives with his wife, writer and artist Claire Åkebrand, and their two children, in Provo, Utah. He won the £5,000 Bridport poetry prize with his poem ‘Low Tide’, in November, 2020.

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