Peeling an Onion

David Wagoner Click to

David Wagoner’s twenty-third and most recent collection of poems is A Map of the Night (Illinois, 2008).  He is the recipient of many awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA, and his novel The Escape Artist was made into a movie by Frencis Ford Coppola.  Wagoner served as editor of Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002 and now teaches in the low-residency MFA program of the Northwest Institute on Whidbey Island.

This extraordinarily self-centered
form on the outside seems
modest enough:  a brown, dry, thin,
            easily broken, vulnerable coat
            which is nevertheless as good
            as tree bark at protecting
and preserving what’s going on
(and on) inside.  If you hold it
and, with a knife, begin
            scraping away, you discover
            a pale, firm handful still bearing
            scars on its opposing
seamless hemispheres
where the roots and stalks
fulfilled their promises,
           then disappeared.  If you cut now
           and peel and keep taking away
           layers and unpredictable fragments
of layers that may be turning
inside out, retesting the terms
of solid geometry,
           if you keep on peeling past
           where a thrifty cook would have stopped,
           you’ll find an untouched, almost
untouchable whiteness more certain
of itself and its meaning than what lies
under these very words, a slippery
           pearl easily mishandled
           and no more tasteful than the debris
           surrounding it (thanks to you)
on the chopping block, and you’re left
with only a metaphoric
whiff of an exit line.


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