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"I Am Not What I Am"


For Duffy White

More than 600 years later, I’m re-scripting

Iago’s line as my own aside: “I am not

what I am” is what I’m saying. I’m saying

if we happen to meet in this absurd theater

in the round and youturnquickly&instantly

pivotback, you might glimpse another me,

let’s call it the dark side of my moon—

a trite metaphor, I know—but that’s me too,

a lazy cliché, one of many unflattering poses

I keep to myself along with the cold, angry,

confused, afraid, petty, viscious, weak

Stevie, Steve, Steven, Mr. Lewis. Dad. Chief.

My dear children might wave away my confession

(I’m vain enough to hope so) and friends could

offer four too many no’s—“No no no no no,

we know you”—to which I’d say, "Thank you,

but no you don’t,” is what I’m saying here

in black on white, on a brisk November day

after wandering the woods, trees bereft

of leaves, cliffs appearing for the first time

since April, a seasonal reminder that the story

we show the world is never the story,

that the long afternoon shadow behind

me is not trailing but chasing me past

sunset into darkness, where lust, gluttony,

greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride push me

from behind, make me trip on my feet,

tumbling down through all the valleys

of all the shadows of death in life,

where I always land with a sickening

thud, a shadow of the man you think

you know, stumbling between tree trunks,

past bears asleep in caves, red tailed hawks,

barred owls soaring silently over the torn

canopy, scanning the fields for rodents as I

find my way back to the yellow house

deep in the dark forest, to light a fire,

to disabuse myself of all the masks I wear,

to tear out the hurtful pages of Corinthians,

rip up the inhumane Boy Scout Oath,

the apochryphal wedding vows, tossing

handfuls of pastel confetti into flames,

the flickering light of half truths, brazen lies

piercing the darkness, warming the quiet

living room where my love and I sit

on this family-worn couch, the two of us

long ago evicted from the garden, strangers

to everyone but each other behind crow-

footed eyes, inside wrinkled skins,

we cleave unto each other,

shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh.

—SL, New Paltz, NY, November 2022

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