The Last Poem I Loved: “Reaching Around For You” by D.A. Powell


April is over. We can’t stop these things from happening, no. We’re slipping out of spring into summer, out of busy semesters and National Poetry Month. We’re slipping outside our houses, and offices, and coffeeshops after the seemingly innumerable gray days, and I’m glad to slip into the last poem I loved, “Reaching Around For You,” where D.A. Powell invites us:

…to slip naked into the slough
with the wiry boy who peeled each apricot—
as if slightly uncertain how to partake of it—

and savored: dribbling it down his damp chest,
between his long clammy legs, and moistening
his whole delinquent body with pleasant juices.

Indeed, it’s been a long spell for each of us (and our tribe, and our nation, and our…). Yes, this is just what we need—a beautiful adonis in the orchard, naked and engulfing a sweet, juicy apricot. Or at the very least, Powell is taking us there through his own watchful eye, a masterful lens by which he forges, always, poems unparalleled in their meeting of play, and its cousin pure joy, and the high art of exacting poetic craft. I can’t think of a poet that does it better than Powell. Nor do I want to.

Who else can sustain a stanza with an image, deceitful in its simplicity, such as this—

The river rocks globular and slick,
the catfish with its wet dark skin,
and the afternoon’s durable glassy eyes.

As a boy from the Ozark Mountains, place with endless rivers and caves, place chockfull of deceptively simple pleasures, I can tell you Powell is spot-on in the scene he bestows here. I’ve been the boy in this orchard by the water, and in turn, I’ve been the boy watching him, longing for him. But I’ve never been able to paint the picture like Powell does.

Like so many of the verses in Useless Landscape, this poem partakes in giving superlatively versed wisdom (it isn’t alternatively titled A Guide For Boys without just reason). The inviting wisdom, which here is somehow both witty and quiet, bubbles gracefully to the surface: “I do not mind you closing your own eyes, reclining. / Summoning the image of a lover put away. / Because virtue is hardly what either of us saved // from our separate, desperate beginnings.”

I first heard this poem in October, when Powell read in Pittsburgh. When Useless Landscape came out on Valentine’s Day, I read it again and again, longing first for the boy in the orchard, then for the pure pleasure of reading such a superlative poem. I’m still reading it. And again. If there’s a poem that can save us, one that can take us from season to each new season with hope, it’s certainly Powell’s “Reaching Around For You,” which finally promises that “stonefruit from a tin is almost as good as fresh, / when the spiteful frost arrives.”

D. Gilson is the author of I Will Say This Exactly One Time: Essays (Sibling Rivalry Press) and the forthcoming Jesus Freak (Bloomsbury) with Will Stockton. More from this author →