Al Young: A favorite poem

In your body all bodies lie
by Kenneth Patchen

Kenneth Patchen’s poem has quivered in my heart, almost word for word, for all of my lyric life. I was 15 when I first plucked it from the poetry shelf of the Detroit Public Library. It still gives me goose-bumps. In June 2011 my lovely, ornery aunt died. I can’t forget that reincarnation was slashed from Christian doctrine centuries ago by the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora. When I pitched this history to Aunt Mae — a stubborn, Bible-bent Christian — she couldn’t buy it. Surely Patchen, an ornery, renegade poet, knew instinctively that “we” are far more than this interim cocoon of flesh.

Al Young
Former California State Poet Laureate

In your body all bodies lie

In your body all bodies lie, numbers in a caravan bound nowhere. They do not belong to you, nor you to them. All men have fed you with their want, and to them you shall return nothing; for it is not certain by whose will, nor from what womb you come. Do not grieve, therefore, for those who are lost to you; they were ever so to themselves—emerging from the unknown into what is known by none save the dead, they leave no track that time’s vast foot will not cover. They who know nothing of punishment have been known to perish for terrible sins. Life’s end is life. What is universal cannot be lost. The opinion of grammar has become the opinion of your world: through use of their own action, words rule the heads of men. Your native zone is silence; everything you want is within you. Do not seek the ungranting fire; man himself is the flame.

Kenneth Patchen
from The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen


1 Comment

Filed under Favorite Poem, Favorites of Local Leaders

One response to “Al Young: A favorite poem

  1. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Santa Clara County poet laureate Sally Ashton’s ‘Favorite Poem’ link

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