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Poet contemplates fatherhood in a hotel room

Watch Ted Mathys read his poem “Artifact Hotel” from his collection “Null Set” at the 2015 AWP Conference and Bookfair in Minneapolis. The text of the poem is below.

Artifact Hotel

There hangs, in a hotel in Chicago,
on the thirtieth floor, behind a door
with an electric deadbolt, a photo
of the top of the hotel itself,
framed against an evacuated sky,
lightning rod piercing the gloss.
Inches below, a second photo,
this one the hotel’s lower exterior,
its choir of glass. The eye strains
to suture them, not by moving
the bottom photo up to complete
the structure, but by projecting a new
nonexistent, several floors
in height, into the gap. The hotel
spills over the top of the bottom frame, crawls on brocade wallpaper
into the bottom of the top photo,
accommodating absence
with fluency. Behind the wall
on which the artifact hotel—taller now
than the actual—hangs, my daughter sleeps
in the other room of the suite
in a loaner crib with cold metal bars
while I watch a dramedy on mute.
How effortlessly the mind tunnels
through this wall to her, straightens
her sleep sack, smooths a curl of hair,
but I wasn’t really in there, with her
inaccessible in dream, in which I may
play a role, but she doesn’t yet dream
in images. I am em, oad, speech
rudiment rather than a man in a room
inside a hotel inside itself, getting up
tiptoeing across green carpet
to see if the floor I’m on belongs
to the bottom photo, the top, or one
I’ve projected in between.

Ted Mathys is the author of three books of poetry, “The Spoils,” “Forge” and most recently “Null Set.” His work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, BOMB, Boston Review, Conjunections and elsewhere. Mathys is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation fo the Arts and the Poetry Society of America. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and an MA in international environmental policy from Tufts University. He lives in Saint Louis.

This video was filmed at the AWP Conference & Bookfair. Special thanks to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

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