James Tate Passing & Poem

American poet, James Tate, died on July 8, 2015, at the age of 71. A wry writer of Patchen-like slightly nonsense narratives, while not a favorite poet of mine, Tate’s prose poem from his Pulitzer Selected Poems is one of my favorites. There’s that something suddenly bursting about it, almost Kafka-like, ingenious. A lovely metaphor to our Path against odds and with scant resources.

I try to read a poem of a contemporary poet who’s died, an aural memoriam, whenever I hear of their passing. It seems all poets who use language in artful ways to exteriorize inner exploration can’t be too far from spiritual belief, in spite of their refutations, doubt being so, you know, au courant. (And, Tate’s forehead is sublime!)

Here’s the poem:


Man with wooden leg escapes prison. He’s caught.
They take his wooden leg away from him. Each day
he must cross a large hill and swim a wide river
to get to the field where he must work all day on
one leg. This goes on for a year. At the Christmas
Party they give him back his leg. Now he doesn’t
want it. His escape is all planned. It requires
only one leg.


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