Paul Guest


Of salt’s place in ancient Roman currency,

paid out in rough burlap bags

to soldiers bearing the weight of empire,

I’ll speak for a while tonight.

For as long as I can recall some scrap

of trivia, I’ll utter circa, anno domini,

I’ll trace the bloody lines of Caesars

and serve garum, a sauce of fish

left to curdle in the light of that bronze sun,

which I know only as much of

as childhood reading could teach me.

I care even less for it , it must be said, tonight,

while you sleep on the couch,

your body careless and dreaming,

calm, lulled by my invocation

of the useless, the quotidian, the dust-deep

particulars which I’ve stored

against—what?  A winter so long

we forget our names, our numbers,

our address here in this town

that will not do us the sweet favor of fading?

No, there is no reason to know

any of this, to say

not gesundheit or God bless you or even yuck

to the machine gun sneezer

across the dinner table last night

but rather to offer

in perfect serenity to the half-deaf world

the average speed of the human sneeze

as it leaves the nose like a shinkansen,

the Japanese word for their hurtling bullet trains.

Which leads me to say how kamikaze

means divine wind, a fact I loved

before I loved you.  And there I go, rattling

like an old fan.  And still you sleep,

small and warm, having asked

in your drowsing slip of a voice

that I talk and talk, quietly, without cease,

about anything, anything at all,

until you drift and I am at last the one you dream of.



“Lullaby” first appeared in Poetry.