Paul Guest is not an artist. At least not one
that science and philosophy have caught up to,
though pioneering branches of taxonomy
are doing promising work. Widely unknown
as the outsider’s outsider, the ultimate
in plus ultra marginalization, he was born
in a calendar year and even on a day,
though accounts vary. Life in the streets
was hard, filling every day with sadism
and glimmers of affection. Fort Wayne, Indiana,
was not a very good place to grow up,
not even for its most famous resident,
Johnny Appleseed, who wandered
for many decades planting trees
without permission. That is why Paul Guest
was born very far away from so much arboreal neurosis.
As a child, he was restless, curious about little
and addicted to melancholy.
Looking back, he sees he was born to be
whatever he is. Not a night watchman
at the parking deck near the hospital
where he was once treated for the traumas
of birth. His early work displays
a crudity some critics have compared
to the blood-scrawled messages
left by the left for dead in rural ditches
each year. He would see his
later work blossom, inviting his very own praise,
because, as an outsider, Paul Guest
sees what others cannot see.
The ones inside. With things like indoor plumbing
and anti-bacterial hand soap.
Also concrete evidence they once knew
a woman’s soporific love—
things like valentines, envelopes filled
with desiccated rose petals
no one will ever force them to throw out,
and extensive body scarring.
What they do not have, however,
in the shower’s scalding comfort,
in the double dream of double-thick duvets,
in the bowl of organic oatmeal
dusted with Sri Lankan cinnamon,
is The Truth, is Paul Guest,
two things he has always had a lot of.