In View of the Fact
By A. R. Ammons
The people of my time are passing away: my
wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who
died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's
Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:
it was once weddings that came so thick and
fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:
now, it's this that and the other and somebody
else gone or on the brink: well, we never
thought we would live forever (although we did)
and now it looks like we won't: some of us
are losing a leg to diabetes, some don't know
what they went downstairs for, some know that
a hired watchful person is around, some like
to touch the cane tip into something steady,
so nice: we have already lost so many,
brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our
address books for so long a slow scramble now
are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our
index cards for Christmases, birthdays,
Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:
at the same time we are getting used to so
many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip
to the ones left: we are not giving up on the
congestive heart failure or brain tumors, on
the nice old men left in empty houses or on
the widows who decide to travel a lot: we
think the sun may shine someday when we'll
drink wine together and think of what used to
be: until we die we will remember every
single thing, recall every word, love every
loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
others to love, love that can grow brighter
and deeper till the very end, gaining strength
and getting more precious all the way. . . .
Someone I showed this poem to handed me back the book and asked "where's the beef". Then we had a beef; I liked the poem, she didn't, and we took several hours to smooth out the differences between us.
The "beef", is Ammons' details, and the poem works precisely because of his plain speech and the emphasis on his line breaks. Ammons' narrator highlights a more fleshed out version of the same sort of subject, making the point that what comes at you fast in life are marriages, births, and deaths, in that order, in thick, hard clusters; before you know it, you're at the end of it all while the cycle continues for another generation.One descends either into cynicism and despair, or one considers themselves to have been fortunate, blessed, to have lived a life that's endured joy, failure, and every celebration and tragedy in between.
Yes, this is a poem , there is no pretense about it, and it works very powerfully because of Ammons' couplet form; the prose reformatting turns this into something anyone converted to paragraph form would be, a series of run on sentences.
I like his language, his ability to keep a topic running through a myriad of associations that wouldn't ordinarily meet in a piece of writing, and I admire his utter lack of pretentiousness. This is quite wonderful.