In Their Own Words

Ben Lerner’s “Dedication”


For the distances collapsed.

            For the figure

failed to humanize

the scale. For the work,

the work did nothing but invite us

to relate it to

            the wall.

For I was a shopper in a dark


For the mode of address

            equal to the war

was silence, but we went on

celebrating doubleness.

For the city was polluted

with light, and the world,


For I was a fraud

            in a field of poppies.

For the rain made little

            affective adjustments

to the architecture.

For the architecture was a long

lecture lost on me, negative

mnemonics reflecting


and reflecting


For I felt nothing

            which was cool,

totally cool with me.

For my blood was cola.

For my authority was small

involuntary muscles

            in my face.

For I had had some work done

            on my face.

For I was afraid

            to turn

left at intersections.

For I was in a turning lane.

For I was signaling,

despite myself,

            the will to change.

For I could not throw my voice


For I had overslept,

            for I had dressed

in layers for the long

dream ahead, the recurring

dream of waking with

alternate endings

            she'd walk me through.

For Ariana.

            For Ari.

"Dedication" by Ben Lerner from Mean Free Path (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). Copyright 2010 by Ben Lerner. The poem originally appeared in Narrative and is reprinted with permission of the author.

About the Poem

This is the first poem in Mean Free Path. I wanted the dedication to be integral to the book, not something set apart on a prefatory page. Because the poems are largely concerned with the possibility of writing and being for, with finding a mode of address capable of something other than ironic detachment or expressing prefabricated structures of feeling, it seemed like cheating to have a prose dedication external to the poems and their pressures resolving all of these issues as if by fiat. The "for" this poem begins with is not the preposition one would expect from a dedication. Instead it opens with a "for" that functions as a coordinating conjunction in a litany of reasons for despairing of the art. But my way out of the solipsistic lament becomes the possibility of modulating that "for" into a preposition—into writing for another, for Ari.

Although I somehow don't remember knowing the poem then, I see now that Charles Olson's "Love I" must have been in my mind as a model: its repetition, its internal margins. I stole the structure of his poem's first stanza for "Dedication"—a stanza pattern that returns (with a difference) later in the book's "Doppler Elegies."

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