By Stephen Burt

                  Non serviam

Because I can’t ever appear
as I would like to appear,
I once tried to make it so you couldn’t see me at all.

I named myself after a pill
but it didn’t help. I liked
the feeling of feeling small,

as long as it let me feel mobile; I wanted to roll
up and down and around the tiny hall

of a groove in discarded cardboard. I would appall
my peers with risky behavior. I might fall

to my death in a half-inch ditch
full of oil or lawnmower grease. I stall

at the brush of a fingertip. I’m so afraid
of a grand faux pas that I answer the most banal

questions by quoting the questioner, so as to let
his words shield mine. I cover my anger
imperfectly, so I can breathe

with my head between my ten legs; I am my own
backyard slat fence, my own slate garden wall.

I am chitin and ichor inside, but I’ll never let on
how I look underneath. I could always make something
else of myself. I could be having a ball.


Stephen Burt (sometimes also Stephanie) Burt is Professor of English at Harvard and the author of several books of poetry and literary criticism, including Belmont (Graywolf, 2013), the chapbook All-Season Stephanie (Rain Taxi, 2015), Close Calls with Nonsense (Graywolf, 2009), and The Forms of Youth (Columbia UP, 2007).