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>Perfect Reader

October 5, 2010

>Every once in a while I have to watch the movie Elizabethtown in order to have the courage to go on with my life, to make ’em wonder why I’m still smiling. And then I go out into the world and remind myself that it’s really not all about me. Even if I am six feet tall and wearing red, everyone is not looking at me; in fact many of them saw and dismissed me years ago.

I obsess, though. I think about what I’m going to do and say as if it’s going to make some kind of indelible impression. I’m like the speaker of this poem by Mary Ruefle, who I think believes what she is saying at the same time she’s being amused by the absurdity of it:

Perfect Reader

I spend all day in my office, reading a poem
by Stevens, pretending I wrote it myself,
which is what happens when someone is lonely
and decides to go shopping and meets another customer
and they buy the same thing. But I come to my senses,
and decide when Stevens wrote the poem he was thinking
of me, the way all my old lovers think of me
whenever they lift their kids or carry the trash,
and standing outside the store I think of them:
I throw my arms around a tree, I kiss the pink
and peeling bark, its dead skin, and the papery
feel of its fucked-up beauty arouses me, lends my life
a certain gait, like the stout man walking to work
who sees a peony in his neighbor’s yard and thinks ah,
there is a subject of white interpolation, and then
the petals fall apart for a long time, as long as it takes
summer to turn to snow, and I go home at the end and watch
the news about the homeless couple who met in the park,
and then the weather, to see how they will feel tomorrow.

Trying on other points of view can be, oddly, a solipsistic exercise. I like the title of this poem, the way it seems to intimate that the perfect reader is the one most like . . . you.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2010 2:37 pm

    >THIS is my kind of poem. Because it IS all about me.

  2. October 5, 2010 3:45 pm

    >I've never seen or even heard much about Elizabethtown. I'll have to track it down. Is it wrong that I was distracted, while reading this poem, by trying to figure out which Stevens poem the author was talking about? It bugs me that I don't know.

  3. October 5, 2010 4:23 pm

    >It is, Care, it really is!Harriet, the Stevens poem is "Someone Puts a Pineapple Together." ("The Idea of Order at Key West" would be entirely too self-referencing, don't you think?)

  4. October 5, 2010 5:57 pm

    >I love this poem. Esp the last three lines. I've never heard of Elizabethtown either. Will rectify that.

  5. October 5, 2010 6:20 pm

    >I've never either — I'll look for it.

  6. October 6, 2010 12:22 am

    >Ignorant about both this specific poem, the one it alludes to and Elizabethtown. The trifecta of ignorance!And btw it is all about you 🙂

  7. October 6, 2010 9:01 am

    >Reminds me of the Idlewild lyric 'songs when they're true are all dedicated to you' and Trisha's guest post at thingsmeanalot about those YES moments we have when reading. Beautiful poem, I love the line about watching the weather to see how the homeless couple will feel tomorrow. I think this is going in my poetry notebook to refer to often.

  8. October 6, 2010 12:38 pm

    >Oo, wonderful poem (as usual). I can't sympathize with the Wallace Stevens love, but with the reading of a poem that way, definitely.

  9. October 6, 2010 12:40 pm

    >FreshHell, ReadersGuide, and Elizabeth–Elizabethtown is a sentimental favorite of mine, but it's also a really good movie, especially for anyone who has any southern family. I like it for the part about what you do after you fail at your job.Oh, and Elizabeth–identifying the Stevens poem is a joke. There's no way to tell which one she means.Jodie, I like YES moments although I need to restrain myself from replying to them so often in Molly Bloom fashion. I did that in an email to a biologist professor acquaintance last week, and he probably just thought I was odd.

  10. October 6, 2010 12:41 pm

    >Jenny, I think Stevens is used because it's particularly funny to feel a personal connection to such a non-confessional poet.

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