PAUL GUEST's first book, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, won the 2002 New Issues   Poetry Prize. His poems appear in Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Verse, Lyric, West Branch and elsewhere.
           after receiving one vote to appear on a U.S. stamp

Even the dead must blush with shame
and long to sink deeper in quagmire,
as you must, poor Virgil, clutched

tightly to that one vote, dreaming
of the stamp which will never bear you
up to new life. On our tongues

some good rests. Some sweetness waits
to be opened like an envelope
in deep summer. Maybe in Virgil,

Illinois, you’d have graced
a tentative, five times rewritten
love letter sent across country

between distant friends who swear
on the dust rising everywhere
that life had never felt this

tender. That rain, and its damp patter
on the roof, were blessed.
And there in the heart of that fire

you would be remembered
for leading them up to Paradise,
as you led Dante. To go no further.

And I think of who voted you,
Roman poet, two thousand years dead,
to give safe passage

to cards for his ailing mother in Omaha,
who he knows to be dying
and so does not visit, hoping

never to fall under Death’s sweep.
Sullen angel, lordly in your sedan
at the edge of dead rivers, know

him by his vote, and by his folly.
If any of us here live at all,
we see ourselves in others by the same

signs. On the street, in passing,
we hum as though struck
by lightning from Apollo, god

of divine distance, and draw nearer
to one of a thousand ends,
for which we have practiced nothing

but amazement. No words
can fit our shapes then
and waking lost we look for guides.

Paul Guest


Twenty-nine years and never have I left
the earth long enough to see clouds
from above, or think them a vast table

of snow. Once I thought to call them
curds, thinking of buttermilk
and my father, drinking whole glasses

down, or crumbling in it cornbread,
a poor man’s meal. But here,
so far above the world,

I’m not a son, or anyone, or anything —
picked up in one place,
set down in another,

I seem only speed.  This morning,
stopped behind a battered car,
the light held long enough

for a dog to grow brave,
to cross before us, to draw some kind of contempt
from the other car’s passenger

who got out, threw his bottle at the dog
and missed, laughed
when he hobbled back into the car,

vanished.  He deserves no good place
in the world, not here —
not where Sunday school teachers

taught angels abided, this
confectionary heaven,
but I can’t banish him or his meanness

from the earth we pretend
to escape, or from these clouds
that once I wanted all for my own.

Paul Guest