Poem: form

The poet, like countless others precariously employed in higher education, faces yet another broke summer. In Eckes’s poem, two forms sit in direct confrontation. The unemployment form, with its insults and banalities, is an object of unhappy necessity. The poetic form, however, resists the other’s requirements. Refusing any easy deployment of obedient answers, it counterasserts what could be — humor, pleasure — despite the sorry state of what is. As the poem moves, it does more than preserve the possibility of a life freely lived: It arrives too at what the official form omits — an unsparing account of difficulty, the grim realism of the dead A.T.M. Selected by Anne Boyer

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman


By Ryan Eckes

filing for unemployment again at the end of teacher appreciation week

along w/50 million other people

i almost put an air conditioner in the window backwards, on-switch facing outside

i almost cooled off the whole city

what are you doing, my friend said gently, flying down delaware ave, into the night

i appreciate you, i said, waving goodbye, on my way

back to the form:

were you absent from work when work was available:

no, never

i would never try to love my friends

every single day, skipping stones across the water

for pleasure, one dream after another

why would i ever want life to just get better

and better and better

did you or will you receive vacation pay

the car is parked, the door is locked

the room is empty, the fridge is closed

the day is long, the pain is old

when will you learn

said the carcass of the A.T.M.

Anne Boyeris a poet and an essayist. Her memoir about cancer and care, “The Undying,” won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. Ryan Eckes is a poet from Philadelphia. He is the author of “General Motors” (Split/Lip Press, 2018), “Fine Nothing” (Albion Books, 2019) and “Wet Money,” (Radical Paper Press, 2020) all of which can be downloaded free from the Internet Archive. His work can also be read in Prolit, Protean Magazine, Wax Nine Journal, Tripwire, Bedfellows and elsewhere. Eckes has worked as an adjunct professor and labor organizer in education, and he is the editor of Radiator Press. In 2016, he was the recipient of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

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