by Robert Cording

So strongly present, enclosed
in familiar features: all you
ever see, your self, unreal
to the Buddhist monk, but
something you cannot get rid of.

Inconceivable, this face, yours
just once to wear, that says, You
can go this far and no further.
That grins, self-mockingly,
when you try to reach with words’

tenuous liaisons what you believe
words do not invent.
Your petitions repeat themselves,
endlessly trying to get it right,
but still you hear only

your own voice, your will
never strong enough
to will nothing. So here
you are, fleshed out in features
that tell the same old story

year after year, the end
just beginning to make itself
clear in the boney ridges
rising to the surface
of your cheeks, in the deep

holes into which your eyes
stare, and sink, an emptiness
asking, What have you ever seen
beyond the point of vanishing
to which we have brought you?

SOURCE: Poetry (December 1996).

IMAGE: Self-Portrait (The Pilgrim) by René Magritte (1966).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Cording is the author of several collections of poetry, including Life-list (1987), Heavy Grace (1996), and Walking With Ruskin (2010). Cording has received numerous honors for his poetry, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He has served as director of From the Fishouse and was poet-in-residence at the Frost Place. The Barrett Chair of Creative Writing at the College of the Holy Cross, Cording lives in Woodstock, Connecticut.