For me, poetry’s most moving subject is impermanence, and I will never read too many poems about it, each with their own very personal and specific points of view. Betty Adcock of North Carolina is one of the American South’s most distinguished poets and teachers, and this poem is from her new book from Louisiana University Press, “Rough Fugue.”
I’m just an assistant with the Vanishing Act.
My spangled wand points out the disappeared.
It’s only a poor thing made of words, and lacks
the illusive power to light the darkling year.
Not prophecy, not elegy, but fact:
the thing that’s gone is never coming back.
Late or soon a guttering silence will ring down
a curtain like woven smoke on thickening air.
The audience will strain to see what’s there,
the old magician nowhere to be found.
For now, I wear a costume and dance obliquely.
The applause you hear is not for me, its rabid sound
like angry rain – as one by one the known forms cease to be:
childhood, the farm, the river, forested ground;
the tiger and the condor, the whale, the honeybee;
the village, the book, the lantern. Then you. Then me.
Poem copyright 2017 by Betty Adcock, from “Rough Fugue” (Louisiana State University Press, 2017) and reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.