The Funny Man

For Wallace Stevens.

two brown bungalows above snow field

You maintained two obsessions. One was predictors of mortality, a numbers game––and the other was overcoming death. It takes a mind of winter to hold the gaze, suspended.

You noted the emperor, how his clothes were melting. He disappeared, and you rose above the actuaries to keep counsel with the necessary angel of earth.

The glare of it, you noted. The full radiance. The snow man takes it in. There is a certain kind of despair which can remind you how every particle is distinct unto itself and also part of you. Of your closest companion, the sleeping lion, you said, it can kill a man.

But in the war between the mind and sky, what better company? No, the first idea was never ours, and the wheel of its continuance will crush us all in time. So we make another myth to tie us to its spokes and hang on, against the shifting winds, and into these, from the cold tomb of a heavy heart, I hear you laugh.


In his elegy, John Berryman refers to Wallace Stevens as “that funny money man” (Stevens was a successful insurance lawyer). The poet’s acute sensibilities are finely tuned to the embedded paradoxes of human life. He once referred to poetry as “a sleeping lion.”

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I keep watch and listen, mostly in dark places.

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