Today’s poem of the week for National Poetry Month is by Rafael Campo, from his latest collection Alternative Medicine. Campo, who is also a physician, often writes about his work as a doctor or about his identity as a gay Cuban American. But in this poem, “The Thief,” he writes about being a poet.
The poet is a thief, and nothing more.
I started relatively small: I stole
a glance at you at first, and later on,
I stole a moment in your quiet gaze.
Before too long, I started stealing more.
I stole an image from your library,
a standard form that could belong to me
as much as anyone. The poet is
a thief, and nothing more. I stole your heart,
and spilled a bit of it as I rushed out
the door; I stole a definition of
what some might say is poetry itself.
The poet is a thief, an awful bore.
I started getting more audacious. Steeled
to anyone but you, I took what things
I could. I stuffed my pockets with your shame,
I robbed you of your self-esteem. I stole
the smoke from your lit cigarette. I stole
your first uncertain kiss, I stole whole lives
that neither one of us could ever live.
I stole a car, I stole policemen too,
I even stole your reputation. Soon,
I stole so much I couldn’t look at you.
I spilled some stolen tears; I spilled my guts,
but even my confession seemed untrue.
I’d stolen that pathetic gesture too.
The poet is a thief, a whore. I stole
some time with you while you still tried to write.
I knew what you were doing: stealing night,
unlocking secrets, taking all you could.
A common thief and nothing more: you thought
I pitied you. Instead, I saw the petty thief
that you are too, who almost stole the world.
See all of Rafael Campo’s poetry books here.