This is my brother Robert William Hopper (1945-1997)
He was good with animals, good with little kids, good with his students.
He was a teacher and student of words and the way we speak to one another.
And he liked my poems!
I still think of him all the time.
The Dwelling of the Past
This poem believes in the work
ethic, believes you fashion
your own route through memory
and wilderness, blazing low
trails that dissolve overnight,
the wilderness rebuilding itself
on footprints and the bones
But for guide
we have only the horseshoe bends
of pages --- to the bottom and then
the perilous turn to the next,
adding lines, scattering the inky
gravel, the road fading behind us,
losing its way without our will
tamping it in place between
That gravel is these
broken syllables, the last we have
of words, their residue, the squawks
and grunts, their rock-language
Yet with them we build
the dwelling of the past, word
by word, our flashcard house rising
like a tower in spite of winter
wind, in spite of darkness.
Without these words night will
enter bringing all its casualties.
Tonight they hang back, and all
things meet now on the round table
mixing like the grain of oak.
But the early light dims
toward darkness, a murk descending
and water muddy where I dredge.
And now I find only the muddy
boot of cliche, the dump
They swarm our countryside, fleeing
from the burning hills of our
But this poem believes
in the work ethic, I want
the crackpot plan, my perpetual motion
machine in a bottle, my yacht
in the cellar. I'm sick
of the medieval
walls of junk our cities grow,
sick of how we're forced to tug our
forelocks until we're bald, sick
of how our masters permit some
pleasure now and then, some bread ---
a fleabag circus under the banner:
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.
Which is why I travel toward my
private beefsteak mine, my
shadow home of memory. I have
the shares, I own fifty-one percent.
Backtracking, Story Line Press, 1985, pages 45-46.
(My copy was used when I got it and has the author's signature
and inscription in tiny, tiny, tiny writing. This is what it says:
To Sandy --
With all good wishes on
a good night in
I am thinking now that
"On a Good Night in Tacoma"
would be an interesting title or poem prompt. I think Vern left it here for me.
I like the way that this poem travels down the page: making something like a stanza-break
at the ends of some sentences and in the middle of others, causing our attention to focus
on the word after the break. Another strategy to try. Good Night!