The Missing Man
Chained in his cave, he knew to speak
to each hallucination, to
every father, flower, bell.
Even later, the angel found him
at his daylight address, asking
directions to the mouth.
Graham Foust on Richard Robbins
I'm quite sure that Emily Dickinson's athleticism is the main reason I regularly return to her work. At poem after poem, I marvel—"How did she do that? How did she get from here to there so quickly?"—as if in the presence of someone who is particularly gifted at a demanding sport. Of all the poems I read for this contest, "The Missing Man" seems the one most in possession of this quality, as it manages—somehow—to give us a thor- ough poetic tour of Plato's cave and its surrounding area in only forty-six syllables. Its lovely second sentence, which points to both the opening of the cave and a human ori- fice—the source, as some philosopher once said, of both philosophy and spit—is both light years away from and a perfect partner for its first. "Great style," writes Leonard Michaels, "is never compassionate, never social," and this prickly, disinterested, full- throttle Dickinsonian poem might serve as particularly convincing proof of his claim.