The Life of A Useless Man- A Poem About Mutability

The Life of A Useless Man 

Remember the faces,

There are no two people alike.

Seize upon his eyes, his voice, the way he holds his hands;

Memory, concealed in hostility.

Your face won’t do,

You mustn’t go about without a disguise.

You ought to have pins, needles, tape, hairpins, ribbon.

Spring something; wheedle bone.

Smooth, close, stretch, crack.


The original text which I created this blackout poem is about two men, Maklakov and Yevsey. They are taking a walk together and Maklakov, a russian spy, is informing Yevsey about how to read people and memorize their identifying aspects. They walk into a bar and order two beers and a brandy. Yevsey appears distressed at the advice Maklakov gives him. At the end of the page, Maklakov asks Yevsey to tell him what he is thinking about, to which Yevsey responds, “about myself, or about everything…” (Gorki 115). This statement appears to incite reminiscing and memories in Yevsey, and that part is a place from which I took inspiration for my poem.

The poem I created from Maxim Gorki’s The Life of A Useless Man is about reconciling memory with change. In the first four lines of the poem I try to speak to the urge people sometimes have for trying to capture a fleeting moment; like memorizing the lines of someone’s face, or a particular idiosyncrasy that makes them so distinguishable.  “Memory concealed in hostility” is meant to speak to the fact that change can be hostile and unwelcome, while memories of the way things were can be painful like “a musical but melancholy chime” (Wordsworth Mutability 4).

Although this poem is not a sonnet, I did include a volta, in line 5. The shift to a commanding and unsatisfied tone is meant to speak to the state of dissatisfaction felt by some individuals who seek radical change. This part can be related to Frankenstein, because of his desire to create something that will change the world. The last two lines, are an homage to the work of Dr. Frankenstein; he who cracks bones and stretches skin over a foreign frame, all in the hopes of making something dead into something once again mutable. I wanted to show the frantic nature of trying to remember as it was that which is about to change, the yesterday that “may ner’er be like his morrow” (Shelley Mutability 15).