“With Your Shield or On It” is an audacious poem. The poet is reckless, irreverent; he waits on the street corner to be struck down for calling Iggy Pop and Jesus into the same line. The speaker claimsomnipotence,to see everything, towering over the city, seeing impossible details of his neighbors’ lives, walking “suspended” on the bridge like Jesus on the water, seeing “from the beginning of time till now,” and no god or epic legend can knock him from this perch.
This reign is ended not by God, not by Achilles, not by Auden, but by the eyes of his fellow mortals that draw the speaker outside of himself to “become the flesh” and see with their eyes nothing but “a tattooed punk” outside the temple, unable to enter.
In the end he cannot raise the dead, cannot see from time into time, cannot even open his mouth to say the words. The speaker calls out twice for the god and God that he has previously brushed aside. Nothing helps. The circumstances remain unchanged, and our poet is impotent to even create a poem in which the death of his friend may be entombed.
With the poem over, the reader is compelled to travel the same route again, alone this time, to rediscover what the speaker saw there, and what he hid. Do we see that door frame, that man on the street, that punk with his dog, in the same way? Do we search for clues of grief that were dropped behind the speaker as he took his morning route through the barren city? The final line of the poem propels the reader back into the poem, to relearn the streets, to redirect the heart.