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Paul Hostovsky


I Will Die in Florida


which is the state with the prettiest name

according to Elizabeth Bishop 

who died in Boston, Massachusetts

according to Mark Anderson from West Virginia

who had read more Bishop than I had 

when I met him at that college on the Hudson 

where we were English majors. Venereal soil,

said Wallace Stevens about Florida, 

or so said Robert Kelly, our professor and resident poet

who weighed over 400 pounds. I didn’t care for Stevens 

and I didn’t care for Kelly and I stopped writing poetry

after graduating from that college on the Hudson,

though ten years later I started again and I haven’t 

stopped yet. Mark Anderson liked John Crowe Ransom 

and Robert Penn Warren and Waylon Jennings. 

Today he teaches English in a high school 

in West Virginia. I liked e.e. cummings and May Swenson 

and Paul Simon. Today I work as a sign language interpreter 

in Boston, Massachusetts. We both liked Donald Justice

who lived and wrote and taught in Florida. I will die 

in Florida, Mark Anderson will die in West Virginia,

Robert Kelly would have died a long time ago 

if he hadn’t lost the weight. Elizabeth Bishop

was an only child, like me, and published sparingly. John Ashbery

replaced Kelly as the resident poet at that college on the Hudson,

but that was a long time after I’d moved to Boston 

and signed up for that first sign language class. Ashbery died 

in New York at 90. I never cared for Ashbery 

and I never cared for New York, though I grew up in New Jersey

just a stone’s throw from the City. A stone’s throw 

in sign language is the thumb and forefinger 

grazing the tip of the nose in a downward motion. I will die 

in Florida because I married my sign language teacher

who was Deaf, and it didn’t work out, so I married another

Deaf woman, which didn’t work out either, so I married a third

Deaf woman and the third time’s the charm—I never cared

for Florida but my third wife has convinced me

to retire in St. Augustine, where I’m sipping my tea 

as I write this, a stone’s throw from the Florida School for the Deaf 

and the Blind. There are many live-oaks here in St. Augustine 

uttering joyous leaves of dark green, the moss hanging down 

from the branches, like in that Whitman poem

about a live-oak growing in Louisiana all alone. I will die alone

in Florida because we all die alone, perhaps remembering a poem

by Donald Justice, whose poems were short and memorable—

most of them fit on a single page—and whose output was small,

and who was an only child, like me, only in Miami.

Paul Hostovsky's poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize, and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer's Almanac, and the Best American Poetry blog.

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