To Fly Through: the Failure of Poetry

by K. McGiffert

read it in the correct order


My favorite poem is “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts,” by Wallace Stevens. I don’t know what it means. A potentially dangerous cat shrinks to a “small green bug in the grass” while the rabbit grows monolithically in front of the moon. It is summer, fragrantly hot, and the powerless becomes like a god this one night. That poem was a favorite of my friend, Ben, too. Ben took English classes on break from the psych ward where we were living. Living was hard for him. One night, he went home to his mother on a pass, shut himself into the bathroom and sliced both wrists. He was saved, but now his fingers were each threaded through a brace fixed to the bandaged wrists, in order for his tendons to heal back into useful things. I tied his shoes for him; he said I looked good in jeans. One evening, we were talking about poetry. I quoted Stevens, saying, “I love the sound of ‘his fire-fangled feathers dangled down’.” But he didn’t pick it up. He said “I just wish I could step away for a while. Sleep in the air. Just sleep there for a time, weightless.” I nodded and said little, a good listener, like a therapist, feeling myself large with understanding and kindness. The next morning, Ben left the ward, climbed the many stairs, and with his tied fingers ripped a fire extinguisher from the wall and shattered the window. And then he was gone. The sleep—I hope it felt long and deep and that he was the “nothing that is” by the time he reached the parking lot. I failed to save him, didn’t come close. I became the tiny cat-bug and he’s still the dark ghost, eclipsing the moon.




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