The Poor Knight
after The Idiot

a poem by



My relationship with my wife is one of my greatest sources of poetic impetus. In many ways, it was she who showed me to love poetry during our years as undergraduates–she in English, I in Philosophy–at the University of Dallas. I began to write largely because of her writing. Now that we have a daughter, not to mention grad school and clerking at a local grocery, our time for reading and writing together is much limited. We always keep a book in the car, though, to read aloud during errands, road trips, etc. Often, a phrase in my wife’s particularly musical voice spurs me to invention. In this case, I was struck by the episode revolving around Pushkin’s, “The Poor Knight”, from Dostoevsky’s, The Idiot.

BREAKING at the red mill
winding him in its whirling,
he held an image in his horse’s mouth,
an image clear and indistinct,
bound about the waist in blue ribbon.

He and the crimson wind tilted
as the mockingbird and crow
whose perning piracy knows no certain prey,
the rapture of a war reversed.

In his end he lay
below the blown red stones,
discovered and alone but for
the visor crimped across his eyes,
glazed grey, mosaicized in veins
burning with the turning breath

that tipped the iron lens until
the ribbon broke, unbounded
but for stone, upon his dying eyes,
curving to consummate their image
irrupting from the mantling rose.

Image: Don Quixote in the Mountains, by Honore Daumier