Poetry Corner: “DEVOTION (REFLECTION)” by Mark McCloughan ’10

headshot of Mark McCloughan


when contemplating the word devotion

and its scalloped edges, the seaside-at-sunset-

pink it often wears to provoke

those who would walk alongside it,

I always imagined myself in the approach,

one of those starched-collar suitors

armed with stiff bouquets of formal roses,

knee desperate to bend, litany of my faults

loaded on the tongue already,

the elegant catapult of my mouth

hungry to launch the volley

of unworthiness, which happens to be the name

of my favorite chapel in the church of language,

where I try to worship frequently,

though sometimes my fervor

lapses into a practice based on utility,

i.e. I only come around when I need something,

which makes me feel guilty, sure,

and therefore unworthy, so I guess

it all works out, in a way, it’s restrictive

but comfortable, at least

and when I think of devotion I always see

myself in the suit, whispering intensely

into the ear of the thing that doesn’t need me

I never imagine that I could be the one

upon which the pink silk hangs, the one

who steps gracefully through the long day

receiving compliments and entreaties

I can never find the edge in the air that will reveal

the door into the feeling of being praiseworthy,

so I keep humbling myself, though my knees

are bloody, though my tongue is blunt

and tired of moving through the same positions

that make up the reasons why you shouldn’t

love me, why my dress isn’t pink, why

I’m a false idol

I’m a false idol

I’m testing myself

I’ve broken all the mirrors in the house

—Mark McCloughan ’10

headshot of Mark McCloughan
(Photo by Brendan Callahan, courtesy Mark McCloughan ’10)

This poem is the winner of the 2018 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, which American Poetry Reviews awards to a poet under 40 years of age in honor of the late Stanley Kunitz’s dedication to mentoring poets.

DEVOTION (REFLECTION) first appeared in American Poetry Review and is reprinted with permission.