Poem: You, therefore - The New York Times

I have loved this poem for a long time. And all I have to add is that my father’s name is Reginald. And my name is Reginald. And for ...


I have loved this poem for a long time. And all I have to add is that my father’s name is Reginald. And my name is Reginald. And for a long time, I had a hard time liking men named Reginald. But Shepherd’s fierce intellect and imaginative use of words, and his willingness to love so much of what a Reginald is, whatever he is, makes me believe that there is more possible in this life than acrimony. I’ve never met the man, but I miss him, although I’m sure not as much as Robert. Can we write from those we love like Shepherd wrote of Robert. Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

By Reginald Shepherd

For Robert Philen

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, immeasurable, so the hours shine:
if I tell you “I tell you”, you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the phantom
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Charcoal sketch of the old master: you are
a match of person, number, vote,
and place the strawberries are spreading through your name
as if they were budding shrubs, how do you remind me
from a spring, the waters so fresh and clear
(the late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by a light wind),
this is where you find yourself in the grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, an aster, a white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights to me, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow is still coming
of his earthly journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed that the snow was you,
when there was snow), you have my right,
became my night (your body takes
the dimensions of sleep, the form of sleep
become you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spring from your mouth
in the waves, your lips taste like the sea, sweet and sour (trees
and the seas flew away, I call it
love you): the house is nowhere, so you,
a kind of abode and welcome, song after all,
and free from any Eden we can name


Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and a lawyer. He created Freedom Reads, an initiative to organize micro-libraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon”, explores the post-incarceration experience. His 2018 New York Times Magazine article on his journey from teenage carjacker to working lawyer won a National Magazine Award. He is a 2021 MacArthur Fellow. Reginald Shepherd was an award-winning poet whose books included “Fata Morgana” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), from which this poem is taken. He died in 2008.

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