Post Road Magazine #26

The Categorical Imperative Poem

David Wagoner

This is how you put it all together.
You stack it up in your head like plates or pancakes

or the leaves of unopened books you can take to heart
and for granted as yours truly and finally

because it's also how the horizontal pigeons
get together on wires, how reunion ciphers

line up on bleachers or at banquet tables
for memorial shots or how you can arrange them

from way out there, on any old horizon,
one, then another closer and another

closer than that and another and the last
right up against you, or you square them off

face to face, hard faces to faces, either
making a joint venture or giving up

and veering out of sight. You can send them
up the spiral staircase in curlicues

to an end in the clouds or start them tumbling
from those same clouds and down in lattices,

in crystalline cubic tassels and flashy prisms,
bilateral barbules, six-pointed starry jackstones,

octagonal parachutes, teardrops, or wheels
into branches of banks and the shelves of libraries,

franchises, outlets, webs and collapsible networks,
uncoiling into the whips of fractal ferns.

Or have them all stand still, with you in the middle
and tell all four of them to pay close attention

to what you're going to say, and you say, Dark One,
Old Man, Lady, Myself, here are the words

of a Universal Maxim I can't remember.


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