Rae Armantrout, “Spent”

Spent (from Poetry Magazine)
Rae Armantrout

Suffer as in allow.

List as in want.

Listless as in transcending
desire, or not rising
to greet it.

To list
is to lean,
to one side.

Have you forgotten?

as in exhausted.


The regression forms a circle. “As in” constitutes our markers, where words are given all-too-personal definitions. “Suffer as in allow” establishes the speaker almost entirely. She’s letting “thy will be done,” but this seems to have less to do with a redeemer God and more to do with a numbness from an earthly economy of desire.

“List” and “want” flow from “suffer as in allow.” Why do we just accept, trying not to feel? Sometimes it is a pretend bravery; we know bad things will happen. We want to say “whatever” with the requisite neglect in deed. This is not a habit peculiar to the young.

However, older: years upon years poured into something. Not just wishes. Actual moments of contact, bliss, achievement. She’s listing listlessly as nothing substantial and lasting has been gained. If one gains virtually nothing over a long period of time, one has defined oneself as a life-less desire. Not that getting everything you want is life. But “less” is not realistically a central feature of adult life. We need more even as we do more with less. (Many of us are disappointed with a lack of responsibility.)

Listing should be learning: one should be sorting, prioritizing. Instead, there’s just leaning. One is the desire, the desire is a crutch. Standing straight? Standing up for oneself? The poem’s speaker descends further, blaming another: “Have you forgotten?” I don’t know this poem is just a love poem. Rather, we do desire and are pained by it in a most fundamental way. This is not to excuse the obsessive. Desire can list to find achievable, realistic ends and still fall short. We do need others at some point. Not just for the alleviation of frustration, but for the more basic problem that thinking can be unanchored, left only with its own devices. There’s only so much one alone can do.

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