Archival Features, Poems

P. K. Page: “Improbable Concept”

For January & February we’re featuring P.K. Pages “Improbable Concept,” which appears in the current issue of Poetry Northwest. Page writes, “‘Improbable Concept’ is written in the seductive and challenging glosa form, which dates back to the l5th century Spanish Court. The lines of the opening quatrain are chosen from the work of another poet; they are followed by four ten-line stanzas, whose concluding lines are taken consecutively from the quatrain; their sixth and ninth lines rhyming with the borrowed tenth—I suppose a liking for crossword puzzles helps!”

Improbable Concept
Certainly the dead watch us, but not
as opera, nor as the Great Grey Owl
tunes in gophers underground.
We are their daytime television.

— “Edge of Night” by Don McKay

Improbable concept—the dead
watching. Through pearls?
Empty eye-sockets?
Specially constructed binoculars, or more
improbable still,
through an interest in character and plot?
But why should they take to people-watching
rather than to dry-walling, glass-blowing
or manufacturing shot?
Certainly the dead watch us but not

daily. They can never know
when they’ll be busy doing other things,
or falling asleep, dreaming
they jump rope among asphodels
or climb Yggdrasil, the World Tree:
Or, perhaps, she—showered and cool—
prepares breakfast as usual
while he rolls over and yawns.
They don’t watch us (or not as a rule)
as opera, nor as the Great Grey Owl

strix nebulosa, the grey ghost
or phantom owl, who sees through his ears
or hears through his eyes or does
whatever is required for finding food
in the snow,
who makes no sound
beyond the whoooosh as he flies
and the whooo—ooo—ooo as he calls
and—unlike the yellow-eyed Great Horned—
tunes in gophers underground.

And we are certainly not opera for them because
the music of the spheres will drown out
Norman, Callas, Vickers, Josè van Dam
and each and every note of Wagner’s Ring.
But “soaps” are under the radar
and, unless I am mistaken,
we are well cast,
act like pros, are word perfect,
and perform our parts with passion.
We are their daytime television.


P. K. Page’s books include The Filled Pen: Selected Essays, Up on the Roof, a selection of stories, and two books for children, Jake the Baker Makes a Cake and The Old Woman and the Hen, as well as a book of glosas, Coal and Roses, and The Essential P. K. Page

“Improbable Concept” appears in the Fall-Winter 2008-09 v3.n2 issue of Poetry Northwest Subscribe today