Pick-a-Poem: “Paper”

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This week’s featured poem is entitled Paper and is written by Stephen Ackerman. I found this poem thanks to Poetry Daily, which is a great website at which you can find — as the name suggests — a daily serving of poetry. I really enjoyed reading this poem; there are some great paper-based images and the entire poem is just really interesting. Once again, I was unable to find an audio version of this poem. I’d suggest reading the poem aloud if you’re on your own, or even if you’re with a friend. Encourage them to listen and interpret the meaning of the poem for themselves.

According to Poetry Daily, Stephen Ackerman “has worked since 1989 as an attorney in the Legal Counsel Division of the New York City Law Department. His poems have appeared in several publications, including Best New Poets 2010, Boulevard, Mudfish, Partisan Review, Ploughshares, Upstreet, and previously in Salamander. “Paper” is from his manuscript Elixirs of the Body.”

Paper, by Stephen Ackerman

We went dutch and during dinner
she said of her ex-, “We looked good on paper.”
To be young, beautiful, professional
stood them through the processional,
but not many years beyond.
Scissors cut paper, paper covers rock.
They papered over their differences, but
in love and war, all’s fair:
one liked the window open, one liked central air.
Scissors cut paper, contracts are rescinded.
Heavy stock, with a watermark,
paper has a signature. Oh, papyrus!
Ancient love and new love! Cradle
made of reeds. Paper on which he praised
her silken labors:
“Origami of your body
when you folded
first east, then west,
and made for me
the lotus of forgetfulness.”
Each day you must decide
whether words are worthy
of the paper, whether you are worthy
of this leaf, this life.
Paper on which I dedicate this poem
to you, my vellum, raven.
Paper on which the suicide wrote:
“I had a good life, don’t blame yourself.”
Poor, blameless paper, used for such a note.
Paper on which a country declares its independence
and signatures are writ large. Ah, fame.
Oh, parchment. The lilacs and the paperwhites
in the garden are in bloom
for a day. Without paper, without words
on paper, I could not hope to seduce you.
The pen is mightier than the sword,
but not without an essential companion.
As the pen is to the paper, so am I to you:
each stroke inscribes an ardent epigram.
The air around me knows your name,
so does this paper, Katherine.
And this page, which held all possibilities,
and had a bright future,
now is bound forever
to this minor poem,
to “Paper.”

I hope you enjoyed this week’s poem. Check out more of them here. Check out our Slate poems here.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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