The speaker in this week’s poem insists, “I will not be saved,” and yet he prays to be visited by rain, by a dragonfly, by the light of the “midnight special” – a line from a famous folk song. It seems he wants to be inspired – a word, by the way that refers to a divine breath coming into a body – and he is, finally, when he least expects it.

Robert Farnsworth taught literature and creative writing at Bates College in Lewiston for almost three decades. His books include “Rumored Islands” (Harbor Mountain Press, 2010), “Honest Water” (Wesleyan, 1989), and “Three or Four Hills and a Cloud” (Wesleyan, 1982).

Perfect Strangers

By Robert Farnsworth

Dragging little flags of shadow, three

Witnesses are climbing my front stairs.

They’ve come to save my soul.


When the doorbell chimes below, the dog

barks and barks-a pause, and again

the urgent whines and sharp reports


ripped and ripped and ripped like

regrettable pages. I won’t answer.

I will not be saved. Beside the attic


window I peer down from, the guitar

slumps against a shelf, the stave of its

old strings beyond my ability to tune.


That’s how it may be with my soul too,

now, autumn not yet begun its tremble

and decline, the hawks still awaiting big


thermals they will climb to Argentina,

and words again just clothing things.

All summer, beside myself, I prayed-


let the midnight special shine its ever-

loving light on me, let the irresistible

squall rain its long rain down on me,


let the opalescent dragonfly land on me.

Nothing doing. Those nights came

and went, so many pages turned while


leaves unfurled and whispered in their

lamplit chambers. That’s the question,

one of them says, as they turn away


gently and walk toward my neighbor’s.

Three sudden flights up I’m thrill sick

as the flume rider dragged toward apogee:


on a branch a squirrel stops, sits straight

up in front of me, the tiny hammering

of its heart visible in its plush white chest.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is poet who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2004 Robert Farnsworth. It appeared originally in Southern Poetry Review in 2004 and appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to

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