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Short poem

Phyllis Gotlieb (1926-)

What I Know (Making Free with Villon's Smalltalk)

              1I know how to ring down a chime of dimes
              2in a dime slot if you can find me a dime slot,
              3I know how to push the button at a stoplight
              4so the red flicks green before you blink, and
              5I know how to do a cat's cradle behind my back;
              6I know how to love a stem and a leaf
              7so the flower reaches up to kiss me
              8but other than that, I don't know anything

              9and I am the greatest of puzzle solvers:
            10give me two letters of a 14-letter word you got it,
            11and words, I know every word spoken in jest
            12and every lying word because every
            13lie is as weak as a cobweb, because
            14everyone who believes a lie is a liar
            15to the own self, oh sure, I know all that
            16but other than that I'm an ignoramus.

            17I know where there is love deep as a river
            18and I know how to swim in it, thank God,
            19and also the bitterness of the seas it can decant into,
            20but the thready fibrillations of its sources are mysteries
            21to me, and though I know how to love a soul alive
            22I'm damned if I know how to make a soul rejoice.
            23I give up on it. I don't know anything.

            24O François, I know how to rip off one of your ballades
            25and add a little archy to make it my own
            26and I know how to end a line with a whipcrack,
            27but other than that I don't know anything.


24] François Villon (1431-1465?), French poet and rascal.

25] archy: the vers libre poet transformed into a cockroach, for which see archy and mehitabel (1927) by Don Marquis (1878-1937).

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Copyright The Works: Collected Poems of Phyllis Gotlieb Calliope Press 1978
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Phyllis Gotlieb, Red Blood, Black Ink, White Paper: new and selected poems, 1961-2001 (Toronto: Exile Editions, 2002): 112. PS 8513.O77R33 Robarts Library
First publication date: 2002
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/1/5

Form: ballade
Rhyme: unrhyming

Other poems by Phyllis Gotlieb