C.K. Stead

Into Extra Time


There are times (not many) when your whole life seems
an open book. Whatever takes place takes words
              and the words are telling you

something. A biographer’s wanting your life?
You read her letter as a word of warning.
              You want to improve your French?

Why not say so in verse? You battle your way
to the yellow buoy and feel an undertow—
              the lovely pull of language!

Nothing it seems is empty quite of meaning,
and meanings not given their due in nouns and
              verbs are inclined to complain.

But when the thought comes to you from a poem
by Jaroslav Seifert that—for all your words—
              what you really want is death

you say the time has come to stop this scribbling.
It’s late. You’d like to sleep, but behind closed eyes
              the words, like rats, are working.


Your books have read you too often. The songs of
your youth have forgotten you. This world’s an ear
              that listens for something new.

Your pictures that have stared down at you so long
see scarcely even the one that once you were—
              and sometimes the yellow buoy

as you swim towards it murmurs to its chain
‘Here he comes again,’ but without excitement.
              How easy for Captain Oates

to ‘step outside for a moment’ through that door
marked ‘Hero’s End’. But did he hesitate there
              in the battering white-out

straining to catch a voice calling from within
‘Oates, don’t do this! Come back!’ and hearing nothing—
              nothing at all but the wind?

Author’s Note


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