Poem for Ken Irby: Everyday Magic, Day 439

This is a poem I wrote for the great poet — and my old office mate — Ken Irby to add to the celebration of his life and work held at the University of Kansas Nov. 5. Thanks to Billy Joe Harris from KU for organizing this.

Poem for Ken Irby

And the clearing, if it is clearing, from the North

comes on in the brain like running out barefoot in it as fast as you can

and shivering, and silver blue, and back

— Ken Irby, [Feb/April 2004]

 

Books tumbling into infinity despite the limitations of shelf space,

the tilt of light from a gray or blue sky corner-angling in, and of course

too many papers, too much to grade or prepare. Also a good chair,

the brown scarf left on the coat rack all summer, and because of the force

of gravity, a solid floor that leads him office to stairs to the great stride

home where he roasts a chicken expertly, sipping wine while bantering

about our old office mate, the West Texas military man who loved only

his mother and weight-lifting, or the time, was it in the early 70s?,

when Duncan said something to someone while everyone was entirely

too drunk and famous to notice. And don’t even get him started on X or Y,

and especially the time with Z, who he knows as he knows us all:

by our birthdates, coresponding to a great or should-have-been-famous

poet, philosopher, warrior not excluding Genghis Khan, Rilke and Cervantes.

Time for dessert now, which must be served with freshly-whipped cream

so back to the kitchen from the couch or table, the snifter of brandy

carried with care, and “Do you remember what he said when….”

updates on his nephew, and certainly everyone should read but who has

the time anymore? Meanwhile, the windows disappear into night,

we’re too full or drunk or dazzled or happy to say much anymore

although there’s always Ken’s signature sigh, followed by Well

and how impossible it all is despite how much it happens regardless,

the decades of his poetry, steeped in the inexplicable turning of memory

toward landscape, the psyche more articulate on this page, his page,

and the ordinary vision of a field, a stick, a return, a sliver of sky,

that constant sensation of running or stopping right after motion

that will lead us all, from his small apartment cozied with more books

dozing in lamplight, down the stairwell where he stands in the widening

dark shine of the parking lot, holds the almost-empty bottle of champagne,

and while we spin in Swedish hombo, laughs as if he’s invented happiness.