Poetry: You Told Me What is Essential


You told me that what is essential

can change, the way ancient temples

are rebuilt, stone by stone, every twenty years,

or the ship of Theseus rotting in its harbor

until it isn’t his. Someone will have to weave

woolen sailcloth for its mast. I could point

to the tip and imagine I am directing your eye,

but it’s still my invisible hand touching it.

You could be listening to someone else.

My first teacher, Gerald Barrax,

told me to carve a poem from something true,

then carry it, deliberately, as across a bog,

as if someone’s life depended on it.

Robert Creeley advised tactics over strategy,

a fox in pursuit or in chase,

not a commander drilling his soldiers,

as if it were enough to think

about where you are pointing,

without ever stepping to it, or beyond

what is torn, to find another ground.

Charles Tomlinson said the world is wavering,

there, as if someone had pulled a bow string,

and you could feel the tempered wood

trembling with it, a sequence of occurrences,

always to be believed, but never possessed.

Jonathan Minton lives in central West Virginia, where he is a Professor of English at Glenville State College and curator of the Little Kanawah Reading Series. He is the author of the poetry collections Technical Notes for Bird Government (Telemetry Press, 2018), In Gesture (Dyad Press, 2009), and Lost Languages (Long Leaf Press, 1999). He is the editor of the journal Word For/Word (www.wordforword.info).