Poem: Oath Keeper

Ruben Quesada’s short poem reminds me of Edward Hopper’s paintings in their austere and mysterious scenes, leaving the viewer curious about the people in the paintings and the unspoken secrets of their lives. Even in the first few lines, the visible presses against the hidden: “coppiced topped tree-lined/sidewalks” versus the dark of the “tunnels/and alleys.” The jarring shift to “After hours on my knees” follows quickly after natural scenery. The language is secret, too: “A voice” is unspecified, as is the “fury of men,” who are instead likened to animals. Even the room is rented and impersonal. The only thing that is certain is the uncontainable passion, as depicted by the final two lines. Poem Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Oath Keeper

By Ruben Quesada

Dawn unwinds over coppiced topped tree-lined
sidewalks, pushing its way into tunnels
and alleys. After hours on my knees,
I abide with an oath of secrecy.
A voice says your throat feels as soft as silk.
Last night began with a fury of men —
otters and well-hung wolves — muscular, packed
against the window of a rented room.
They don’t stop until frost pierces the shade
and my raw, anchored breath clouds around us.

Victoria Chang is a poet whose new book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Ruben Quesada is a poet, a translator and an editor whose works include “Revelations” (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). He is currently a board member for the National Book Critics Circle.

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