Once upon a time, you ordered a poem. You were considering throw pillows, a new ferret, or a hatchet, but a poem had been on your mind for months. You were finally ready to pull the trigger.
As for the details, you were certain what you wanted: something longer than a hammer; simpler than Soduko. On the pull-down menu, you selected quatrains but then, after much deliberation, you changed your order to couplets. You paid extra for the stirrups, the tattoo but said no to the eye patch, the hammock, and all warranties.
You were tempted to ask for rhyme (it was included), but in the end, you declined. For you, it was all about story, and you worried rhymes wouldetract from the poem’s flow. If it contained people, all the better: you preferred a tailor, the Russian woman from the bakery down the street, and your grandfather on your mother’s side. But, you said to yourself, who gets everything?
As for the title, you chose the option Surprise Me.
Most of all, you thought, the poem would have to be about mercy, which
would, of course, encompass loss. It must address war, and it must be open
to closure. You didn’t need controlling metaphor, and you had no interest in splurging for metonymy.
There is no anticipation like waiting for the poem you ordered to arrive.
When the poem you ordered ambled up the walk, you were caught off guard by the limp but nothing else—not its body cleaved in two, not the cowlick, not the delicate accretion of its form. You asked for this poem because for you, beginnings are never enough. It has always been about the ending.
To the window, foggy with your breath, you admit that you were never actually surprised by the limp. You knew the gun in the poem’s pocket was loaded, and you knew where it was going. You had, after all, ticked the box marked bullet.
(from his book Works and Days, Truman State University Press, 2011)
Dean Rader is a finalist for the Poetry Society of America's Louis Hammer Award (judged by David Lehman.)