Three Theories Concerning the Soul

by Robert N. Watson

1: The Bad Joke

“I’ll just tell them,” He laughs, “that the soul is mighty,
Because it might survive a summer breeze.
‘Eternal,’ sure, if it dies eternally.”
But, taking up some leaves with a little spring
And sap still in them, soul lodges in the eaves
Like a bird who is happier when nothing human remains,
When doors stay closed, and nobody admires
Its throaty little offspring as they learn
To turn worms into flight: into feathers
That taper off to nothing, but bend the air


2: The Wanted Poster

The soul was last seen somewhere near you.
It is slightly built, and may have grown a beard
Since this sketch was done. It is dangerous;
It is wanted, but stay away; just tell your spouse.

It smells of sorrel, if it has been hiding in the usual fields;
It operates heavy machinery while taking medication.
It tickles girls in private places while they are falling
Asleep on long airline flights. It is hard to wake.

Averting its eyes from love-makers in the park,
It walks straight into branches, and curses aloud.
It doesn’t recycle. There is a reward if you find it,
But there is no one to give you the reward.


3. The Shady Tenant

A psycho moves in, just for the summer. He may be a nightmare
Who wrecks the place. The paint peels because he always
Has something foreign steaming on the stove in a big black pot
With a dull finish. Neighbors alert the police, who don’t
Seem interested in the least. He videotapes acts in the basement.
He complains to everyone about your furnace. He pays the rent
In grimy sacks of pennies.

                                                 Sometimes though there is just
Such sweetness. His daughter falls in love with a boy down the street,
So different from her city friends, and settles for petting
His Basset hound. In the attic rafters his little son
Finds awesome toys that the owners lost interest in long ago.
In yard-sale wetsuits they all finally learn to swim.

Then sugars clot in the cooling veins of leaves and the lawn
Stretches in the sun, erasing every footprint.


Robert N. Watson is the Neikirk Distinguished Professor of English at UCLA, teaching mostly Shakespeare and 17th century poetry. He has authored books on Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, the fear of death, and the roots of modern environmentalist consciousness in Renaissance literature and painting, as well as poems in the New Yorker and many other journals. Hawaii is his favorite place on earth.

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