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Sailing Ashland Avenue.

Sestina with lagniappe line for Michael Anania.


TO STAND UP and say, “I am a poet”
Was to stand and say, “I am a target,”
Or so you stood and said, in Chicago,
Thinking of your old school in Omaha.
Outside your office window red clouds sailed,
Menacing the Ashland sky like prairie dust in Texas.

When you stood and said you were off to Texas
We trembled, then, we Chicago poets.
It was as if Wrigley Field had sailed
Across Lake Michigan, like we were targets
Exposed as any poet in a tough guy’s school in Omaha.
We clamored in the night, sang “Sweet Home Chicago,”

But by the morning’s heat-lined dusty light Chicago
Saw you’d gone, and mourned. To Texas
Then you came, the Texan heat burning like a boy from Omaha
Burns with the remote, the arcane, the idea of poet
Set up in his soul like a distant target,
Like a yearned-for port to which he’d sail.

It wasn’t so distant when a tipsy Auden sailed
Up to you in the Arts Club of Chicago,
Pointed to the wine rack like a target
And, squinting like a cowpoke down in Texas
Said “steal two bottles—we’ll drink and talk of poets.”
And in plain sight the deed was done. No night in Omaha!

(I think I’ve got that just a little wrong). In Omaha
You’d messed about in boats, you’d sailed
The river that in later years you’d sing—a poet
With an office with a view: Chicago
Sprawled in natural light, continuous showings
Of its bliss and blight. Students came from Teaneck and from Texas
To learn your trade: they sought you like a target.

Conversation? Yours—full, a galleon of gold (Mine? A shopping cart at Target).
I listened, wrote your life, from boatyard days in Omaha,
To Swallow Press—you’d yet to move to Texas.
Lost in your words I fouled my lines that time we sailed
Up in Racine, not like a navy man, but like a lubber from Chicago.
Red-faced, I understood why Plato’d banned the poets.

You’re here, you’re up from Texas. To praise you is my target.
I’d sail Ashland Avenue to Omaha to do it,
And sing, with all Chicago: we love you, and we miss our poet.

ROBERT ARCHAMBEAU’s books include the poetry collections Home and Variations and The Kafka Sutra, collections of essays, including The Poet Resigns and Inventions of a Barbarous Ageanthologies — such as Vectors: New Poetics and the scholarly studies Laureates and Heretics and Poetry and Uselessness from Coleridge to Ashbery. His novel Alice B. Toklas is Missing will appear in November of 2023.


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