Poetry Center Reading: Paul Guest

Thursday, March 22, 2012 - 12:00pm
Dorothy Rubel Room University of Arizona Poetry Center 1508 East Helen Street (At Vine Avenue)

Paul Guest is the author of three volumes of poetry and one memoir: My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (Ecco Press, 2008), Notes for My Body Double (Bison Books, 2007), The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World (New Issues, 2003), and One More Theory About Happiness (Ecco Press, 2010). The recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2007 Whiting Writers’ Award, Guest teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia.


I climbed atop the bike, feeling awkward from leaning out over the handlebars. All my life I had ridden single-speed bikes with twenty-inch wheels, dirt bikes, BMX bikes with lightweight steel frames. I felt unsafe but pedaled on slowly.

Jody's house sat at the top of a long, steep driveway. To either side, green lawns sloped down to the road. I didn't see Adam anywhere ahead. Already I was afraid I would wreck. The bike was getting away from me as it coasted down the long incline. I squeezed the right caliper handbrake but it was only mush, a sensation I had felt before on my own bike when the brake cable that ran down to the wheel had frayed or torn entirely. It was a problem I could fix myself but not in motion, not then. My fear began to grow.

I was resigned to the inevitability of crashing, and in those few seconds I had before the bike would be dangerously fast I decided it was better to crash on grass than to land on the asphalt.

I steered to the right, not into Jody's lawn but the grass between her yard and her neighbor's. I tried the useless brakes once more. Nothing.

Maybe I can lay it down in the grass, I thought, though I'm not even sure I knew what that meant. I was rolling over the smooth grass, frozen. I never tried to do anything but ride it out.

From One More Theory About Happiness


I’m no use for parties, for the idle language

which is all how hellish are the days

and dark or where did I find

that thread count or what do I think must be
done about et cetera. So I smile

and nod and never say much,

happy to be thought impaired

or mute and when asked 

to name what I couldn’t live without
were I marooned on a desert island,

I say viable organs. Not a book and its pages
slipping from cheap binding

and not an album

that’s not an album

but summer’s totem forever
and not one deft lover

and not the red ringlets

of her hair let down in a grotto beside the sea.
To be consigned there,

to that island, that home

to the fetish of consolation,

is nothing I ever want

to want. To be stripped of desire
as if it were a bandage.
But here in the night made of alarms,
a train shambles

through the dark

and it’s hard to hear the trees speaking
the language we made

for them. Or I did,

thinking of you

who taught me regret.

There are nights when I dream

of stolen oranges.

How we ran away with the sun in our arms.

And there are nights

when I can’t speak,

not even to the wind

in the strange tongue of the dark pine trees.

From My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge