back toJacket2

This piece is about 4 printed pages long. It is copyright © Geoffrey O’Brien and Jacket magazine 2008.See our [»»] Copyright notice. The Internet address of this page is

Back to the George Oppen feature Contents list

Mary Oppen, George Oppen, Swathmore, 1979. Photo Robert S. DuPlessis

Mary Oppen, George Oppen, Swathmore, 1979. Photo Robert S. DuPlessis

Geoffrey O’Brien

In Memory of Oppen

                                          “The solitary are obsessed”


a plain kitchen
table, his face
tilted downward

with eyes closed
as if to listen in
on what he would say next —

“insufficient care
for the meaning of words” —
painful to think so —

or, of prepositions
“they’re hell on wheels” —
waterfront apartments

emptied of everything
but what they did not
in the first place contain —

to inhabit
a continual erosion
of what is there


not that he did
not want to speak
the words aloud

but it made him
uneasy — to mistake
accident for the actual,

if the heart startled
at a tone of voice —
special pleading —

to remove himself
from the utterance,

a weathered
free-standing hulk
taking its own place


to wake up
in the middle
of a chilly afternoon

to the presence
of words — hull,
pavements, gull —

a gray world
in time for autumn,

the stairwell
winding down
toward late light —

empty, flat,
alien — a generation
fills the air

with their living absence
in each worn handle,
each cracked brick —

ghost words —
more solid
than anything —

come carrying
fifty years
into the stone yard


all that time
they had been in apartments
and cars,

the sun had moved
across the room,
night dropped down,

a foot touched
the bare floor —
key grinding in lock —

under a spell
until it said so:
wake —

when you get back
to where you were
before you were going there —

to find a postcard
undelivered — “man,
read this book”

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.