Patchen’s “Nobody is a Long Time”

I’ve finally finished Patchen’s Selected Poems. The poems in the last third of the book generally seem less strident than many of the earlier poems. My favorite poems actually seem to have been written to be read with jazz music, which may explain why I’m fond of them.

I was a little surprised to discover that my two favorites from this section follow exactly the same format, though they seem to represent two opposite sides of Patchen’s personality.

Many critics insist on comparing Patchen to Walt Whitman, though I personally see few similarities. This poem, however, does convey some of the same optimism that permeates most of Whitman’s poetry:


In this my green world
Flowers birds are hands
They hold me
I am loved all day

All this pleases me

I am amused
I have to laugh from crying
Trees mountains are arms
I am loved all day

Children grass are tears

I cry
I am loved all day
Pompous makes me laugh
I am amused often enough
In this
My beautiful green world

There’s love all day

Of course, I like this because it’s often how I feel when I’m out enjoying nature and avoiding problems that otherwise might confront me. Though I don’t really feel like “I am loved all day” when I’m out walking, I do feel like I love most of what I behold out there, and loving something doesn’t seem too awfully different from being loved.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the whole collection is this one:


Oh nobody’s a long time
Nowhere’s a big pocket
To put little
Pieces of nice things that

Have never really happened

To anyone except
Those people who were lucky enough
Not to get born
Oh lonesome’s a bad place

To get crowded into

With only
Yourself riding back and forth
A blind white horse
Along an empty road meeting
All your
Pals face to face

Nobody’s a long time

I guess I’ll have to see if there’s a recording of this out there somewhere. These are some of the best blues lyrics I’ve ever heard, and I’ve listened to a lot of blues in my time, though the lack of rhyme would probably suggest a jazz song rather than a traditional blues song.

Nobody is, indeed, a long time.