One thing I admire about Gregory Lawless’s “Exchange of Territory”

Maybe poems make the worst masks in the world.


I’ve heard poets say it often enough, that whatever your device or your aesthetic is, the poem gives away the person that you are. I’ve heard it said often enough to mistrust it (habit), and when I read my own poems I certainly want it to not be true (my voice on the answering machine: that’s not what I am).


But reading poems by a friend — and Greg Lawless is a friend, albeit one I haven’t seen in nearly a decade — I so frequently see the person I believe I know that I might as well admit it as not: poems give us away.


Paul Celan wrote that he saw no basic difference between a poem and a handshake. He  probably meant that differently than I understand it, but if I can misunderstand it for a moment, I’ll say that when I read the final line of “Exchange of Territory,” I might as well be shaking Greg Lawless’s hand.


“But what was there to wonder?”


A line as rich and complex as it is apparently flip. Full of the wonder it negates, the hope that accompanies discovery and the despair that accompanies the knowledge of where discovery leads. Some attitude on the surface and something genuine welling up underneath.


“But what was there to wonder?”


I’ll stay and wonder awhile. The territory exchanged comes up to my neck.


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