First Drift

      by Ron Padgett

The writing of poems
and the living of life
seem to require
paying hard attention
to any and everything,
and experiencing
a kind of mental orgasm.
Yikes! Do I
mean that?
Unfortunately, I’m afraid
I did, dipped to scoop
an idea from the roadside,
the mental roadside that runs
alongside the mental highway
that leads to a mental hospital.
I have never been a patient
in a mental hospital, because
I think it would be an extremely bad place to be.
So I stay out.
And stay home.
And go down the street,
looking intently at everything.
Sometimes the people in the street
laugh and turn into sheet music
torn from the sky and left to flutter down
into the metaphor that hides behind the deity,
and will not show itself,
and that is very peculiar indeed,
like a basement beneath the ocean,
with a tree that grew through a sheet of glass 
on which your face was painted,
like a clown’s, in the early morning,
when it was just starting to rain
and the animals are moving, and the tents
are rippling in the breeze, and inside Glenda
the chimpanzee is completing a quadruple somersault
from shining bar to shining bar.


From Collected Poems, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Coffee House Press, 2013, pages 334–335. Published previously in Paris Review #94, Winter 1994. The opening seven lines bring to mind much of what Mary Oliver has written about the value of attention. But then Padgett goes on to question himself, to doubt his opening claim. We may even wonder if he wishes to dismantle or undermine his opening assertion. And yet he does pay attention, “looking intently at everything.”