The satisfaction of knowing

“Elvis is dead,” the man at the bar
says, “John Lennon gunned down
and Hemingway blew his brains
out fearing cancer, kills himself ’cause
he feared death, ain’t that
a hoot? What I mean, though, all
the giants gone, died not young necessarily
but younger than they should have.” He takes
a guzzle of beer, wipes foam
from his sensual mouth, blows his nose
in a napkin embossed with the name
of the place, The Empress of China. A comma
of suds clings to the corner of his lower lip.
“Who the hell,” the fellow next to him
asks, “is Hemingway?” For a moment,
the bar is silent, the conversations
at each table and puddle having run the length
of their cycles, the silence blossoming, filling
itself with the echo of a shotgun
blast, the universe drawing a sharp breath
in surprise. “What was that?” the second guy
asks, he’s pink-faced as a fresh ham, just
as blank. “What was what?” the first guy
says, turning back to the bar, to his beer,
to the satisfaction of knowing.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “The satisfaction of knowing”?

Poems come to me in a variety of ways, sometimes with an image, sometimes a phrase, sometimes with a specific story to be told. This one began with that phrase, “satisfaction of knowing,” which came into my head from who-knows-where and lodged there, an itch waiting to be scratched. I began the poem with the vague idea that “satisfaction of knowing” was where the poems wanted to end, not begin. I had to figure out a way of getting there. In a way, all poems are puzzles of one sort or another, waiting to be solved for the poet as much as for the reader.

What poetic techniques did you use in “The satisfaction of knowing”?

I treated this poem as, essentially, a short story. There’s a plot, though admittedly not much of one, some characters, dialogue, and even a sort of an epiphany at the end. Of course, it isn’t actually a short story, it’s a poem disguised as a story.

This poem “The satisfaction of knowing” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 165 (Summer 2000): 42-42.

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