Poem: You, Therefore

I’ve loved this poem for a long time. And all I have to add is that my father’s name is Reginald. And my name is Reginald. And for a long time I’ve had a hard time loving men named Reginald. But Shepherd’s fierce intellect and imaginative use of words, and willingness to love so much of what is a Reginald, whatever a Reginald is, makes me believe that there is more possible in this life than acrimony. I never met the man, but miss him, though I’m sure not as much as Robert does. May we write of those we love as Shepherd wrote of Robert. Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

You, Therefore

By Reginald Shepherd

For Robert Philen

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are
a concordance of person, number, voice,
and place, strawberries spread through your name
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,
when there was snow), you are my right,
have come to be my night (your body takes on
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep
becomes you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created Freedom Reads, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” explores the post-incarceration experience. His 2018 article in The New York Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to working lawyer won a National Magazine Award. He is a 2021 MacArthur Fellow. Reginald Shepherd was a prizewinning poet whose books included “Fata Morgana” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), from which this poem is taken. He died in 2008.

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