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A Clam's Poetic Demise: 'Resignation Letter'


And now cooking as muse. Poet Dean Young teaches at the Iowa Writers Workshop. We asked him to read his poem Resignation Letter. He began by telling us what inspired him.

Mr. DEAN YOUNG (Poet): I had been cooking clams in linguini the night before and thinking about killing things and thinking about the lamentable quality of death but also the necessity of it.

(Reading) Resignation Letter. This clam doesn't have the slightest idea what's about to hit it. Well, maybe it does but approaches life with bemused, becalmed detachment and therefore death is no big deal, not to be avoided or bewailed even by boiling. Wide, it slowly opens around its secret vowel. Doubtless there is a grace in resignation as there is a briny sweetness in this clam.

The delivery man rings a second time then turns away. The bee bounces twice against the florist window then bumbles on. Baby quiets, not getting what he wants. The rain moves out to sea. The lava gobbles up the village, villagers ox-carted to another island sector just as the old ones did, it's their cosmology. Past and future seemingly resigned to simultaneously, the lovers agree to see no more each other, leaving behind drinks un-drunk and twisted napkins.

The student moves to the next blank leaving the previous unfilled. So much life we cannot have or find or repeat, yet so much we have had and found. I've made this mistake a hundred times, one thinks, preparing to make it again. One day I'll get rid of these expensive painful shoes but not now, says another, scanning her closet. Some things must resign themselves to becoming something else, champagne flat, the burning log ash, after the crash the runner walks with a cane, but some must accept they'll never change. Stained tablecloth never unstained, mark permanent on the heart. You pick up a clod to throw on the coffin lid but can't so turn away, dropping it in your pocket.

ELLIOTT: Poet Dean Young reading Resignation Letter, published in the Threepenny Review. Young's most recent collection is called Elegy on Toy Piano. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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