Prepared Instruments

 After V.W. & H.D.T.

How I wish someone would draft
These lines for me. Perhaps I could
Revise, develop, finish them, but
Then whom would I owe, and what
Would be demanded?  Someone
Young, I suppose—amused or kind
Or shrewd, someone with so many
Seeds to sow it wouldn’t matter
If an old man husbanded a few.
I’m not worth a shakedown anyway.
There’s nobody there. The several
Selves this practice always required
Have all coalesced beneath this
Ordinary sky scuffed with clouds.
Their urgencies and admirations
Have dwindled down to partial,
Gleaming suppositions, fragments
Nobody now invites me to connect.
I wonder about what I’ve so long
Supposed imagination should be
Seeking: intuitional unities, cohesions…
Losing faith, I find myself using other
Voices to probe for what might
Surprise as it concludes. Before
She resolutely waded into the river
With her pockets full of stones,
Woolf wrote: “The beauty of the world,
So soon to perish, has two edges,
One of laughter, one of anguish,
Cutting the heart asunder.” There!
Upstairs, in a corner of my closet,
Where the patiently ironed shirts
Hang waiting to be chosen, lean two
Swords in their scabbards. One
A prop Grandfather wore
in amateur theatricals, the other
a cavalry blade his Union forebear
wore in earnest. Every so often
I do examine that one, just to “see
the sun glimmer on both its surfaces”—
an old fact (or is it a literal figure?)
I choose sometimes to be face
To face with, an object casual
Research tells me I could convert
To serious cash. I can almost
“Feel its sweet edge dividing me.”
Before I sheathe it, I always press
my thumb white near its wicked tip.





Robert Farnsworth’s poetry has appeared in magazines all over the U.S., in Canada and the UK, in two collections from: Three or Four Hills and A Cloud (1982) and Honest Water (1989), and most recently in his collection Rumored Islands (2010) from Harbor Mountain Press. His work has won a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a PEN. Discovery citation. In 2006 he was the summer poet-in-residence at The Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. For twenty-seven years he taught writing and literature at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.



read next: Robert Farnsworth, “Further Notice


“Prepared Instruments” appeared in TLR: Contents May Shift (Summer, 2020)