EXCUSES OF A PLAGIARIST
Derek Sheffield

     —after David Jones, a.k.a. David Sumner, plagiarized in 1995 an elegy
       Neal Bowers wrote for his father

     —with apologies to Stevens, Williams, and others


          I

After I read your poem,
those two white cups floated
out of the first stanza
and followed me everywhere.
Like sheets of paper,
they said, Fill me,
they said, One
is like the other.


          II

Will it make you feel better
if I change my name
to Neal Bowers?


          III

Your poem happened to be
underneath my paper
which happened to be
tracing paper. This is what I mean by
"accident of process."


          IV

You're not the only one
who had a father.


          V

It was summer.
I was lying down looking for omens
in the clouds when a plane
looped your poem in smoke.
I swear it.


          VI

I was trying for a new translation.


          VII

Mimicry is flattery, and theft
worship, oh great one.


          VIII

Forgive me
it was delectable
so touching
so touchable


          IX

You're not the only poet
I like.


          X

They sat me at a keyboard,
and I typed. My fingers grew stiff,
Hamlet died again
and again, and I typed. I typed
as the barbarians never came.
And then, your poem
on the screen.


          XI

How long have you
been the muse?


          XII

I opened my mail
one afternoon and a chain letter
demanded I steal your poem
or all living things
would die. And this
is how you thank me.


          XIII

This is really a case
of free speech,
and I thank you for it.

 

Derek Sheffield won North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Award judged by Li-Young Lee and was a finalist for the St. Louis Poetry Center Award judged by James Tate, the Pablo Neruda Award hosted by Nimrod, and the Elinor Benedict Poetry Award hosted by Passages North. His work has also appeared in Puerto del Sol, Crab Creek Review, The Bellingham Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Salt River Review, Margie/The American Journal of Poetry, and the Anthology of Magazine Verse & Yearbook of American Poetry. David Wagoner selected eight of his poems for Poet Lore’s series of Poets Introducing Poets, which will appear in the fall/winter 2004 issue. Blue Begonia Press published Sheffield’s chapbook, A Mouthpiece of Thumbs. He teaches English at Wenatchee Valley College.

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