It is a house. A small house.
A small dark house perched on the edge of town
near the river.

The river is constant.

A man enters the house, closes the door behind him.
Nothing emerges. We witness this daily.

No one emerges.
The house is dark.
A man enters.
The river is constant.


A pebble pierces the water’s surface.

I awaken to imperfection.

A blackbody allows all incident radiation to pass into it,
absorbing all, reflecting none.

The tensile strength of water decreases as temperature rises.

Hakuin said if you doubt fully, you will awaken fully.

Before sunrise I unshutter the window.

Angle of reflection, angle of incidence.

My doubts reinforced with coffee, I pause.

Perfect blackbodies do not exist in nature.

Opaque box with a hole.


There is a house. A small house.
A small dark house perched on the edge of town
near the river.

Nothing emerges.
A man enters.
The river is constant.



“Blackbody” was first published on Aubade Rising in May, 2014, and appeared on the blog in February 2016.

24 thoughts on “Blackbody

      • This poem is going onto my shortlist of greatest poems ever, Robert. I’m not exaggerating. It’s breathtaking. Written with astonishing economy, it deals with some of the most essential, most important themes (ones, ha, most would rather avoid but cannot without lying to themselves) and it has profound things to say about those. It’s a work, like Emerson’s Brahma, that I’ll carry with me forever, mulling its perspectives. The greatest art is transformative. I won’t be able to put this one out of my head, ever. It’s going to be part of how I see the world from now on. Its central symbols are layered in their application and precise and extraordinarily effective in their emotional evocativeness and power and in both their inventiveness and fittingness. Particularly artful are this masterful repurposing of conventional symbolism and the witfulness of the paradoxes posed. It’s a piece to which I shall return again and again, like Wallace Steven’s The Credences of Summer or Frost’s Directive or Levertov’s A Tree Telling of Orpheus. Had I written this, I would be so damned proud of myself that I would have to do some sort of penance. LMAO.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Gosh, Bob. You’re making me blush. Arthur Sze’s influence is all over this poem, as indeed, it is over every piece I write. Perceived connections — symbolic and otherwise — suffuse my day, my world. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But I keep trying.


          • I’m impressed, Robert. Many people will go to great lengths to deny influence; they want to be that unnatural thing–a person self-born. To not only admit it but claim it, that’s showing proper honor, proper respect, for one’s teachers.

            as I scrape salmon skin off a pan at the sink;
            on the porch, motes in slanting yellow light

            undulate in air. Is Venus at dusk as luminous
            as Venus at dawn?

            Liked by 1 person

            • In 2012 I took a five-day workshop with Arthur Sze. It changed my life. My writing doesn’t resemble Arthur’s (except superficially on occasion), but I am grateful for his kindness and encouragement. I wish I could have studied with him in school. That would have been something!

              Liked by 1 person

      • “perched on the edge of town,” alone, is so perfect, so understated and significant, as to have been worth a year’s writing, IMNOHO (the NO is for “not so,” hee hee). Susan Sontag, in her Illness as Metaphor, written after she contracted cancer, describes vividly, and excruciatingly, how on learning of her diagnosis, people started treating her as contagious (though cancer is not, ofc, contagious) and discusses the reversal of the idea that illnesses express character (e.g., people with TB, like Keats and Chopin, were just too sensitive for the world) so that it becomes character causes the disease. Well, she gave herself cancer because she was too crabby.

        Liked by 1 person

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