Variation on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop
Start with loss. Lose everything. Then lose it all again.
Lose a good woman on a bad day. Find a better woman,
then lose five friends chasing her. Learn to lose as if
your life depended on it. Learn that your life depends on it.
Learn it like karate, like riding a bike. Learn it, master it.
Lose money, lose time, lose your natural mind.
Get left behind, then learn to leave others. Lose and
lose again. Measure a father’s coffin against a cousin’s
crashing T-cells. Kiss your sister through prison glass.
Know why your woman’s not answering her phone.
Lose sleep. Lose religion. Lose your wallet in El Segundo.
Open your window. Listen: the last slow notes
of a Donny Hathaway song. A child crying. Listen:
a drunk man is cussing out the moon. He sounds like
your dead uncle, who, before he left, lost a leg
to sugar. Shame. Learn what’s given can be taken;
what can be taken, will. This you can bet on without
losing. Sure as nightfall and an empty bed. Lose
and lose again. Lose until it’s second nature. Losing
farther, losing faster. Lean out your open window, listen:
the child is laughing now. No, it’s the drunk man again
in the street, losing his voice, suffering each invisible star.
John Murillo, “Variation on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop” from Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry. Copyright © 2020 by John Murillo. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books, fourwaybooks.com. All rights reserved.