Subtraction – a poem by Dan Campion


Combining words, we do not give, but take,
from primal order. We can’t help ourselves.
Like storing grain hulled for the body’s sake,
we sift and winnow words to fill our shelves.
Book writing means subtraction from the One
that everything once was: it dissipates.
Book reading is the same. Look what we’ve done
and tell me this long word game elevates.
Addition is the shadow scribbles cast
down on a page of paper, bark, or stone.
Prolific, and their territory vast,
the two crossed minus signs can’t act alone.
They also need to scratch, to scrape away
like locusts on the last leaf of the play.


Dan Campion is the author of Peter De Vries and Surrealism and co-editor of Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song, a third edition of which was issued in 2019. His poetry has appeared in Poetry, Rolling Stone, and many other magazines. A selection of his poems titled The Mirror Test will be published by MadHat Press in February 2022. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

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