In this interview, Jane Hirshfield reads her poem “My Eyes” from The Beauty, and discusses the “window moment” in poetry. I can’t remember when I first fell in love with her poetry (2000? 2001?), but she remains one of those writers essential to my life.
The forgotten poem, existing in title only: Yellow.
Which is a bruise at three weeks, or memory’s shade in autumn.
In what black folder does it hide? In which blinding light?
I take comfort in primaries, lose sleep at the edges.
Where fraying begins and annotation dwindles to scrawled lines.
Above the bones and flesh of the Egyptian gods. Above my books.
Within these lost minutes. Those moons, bereaved. The hours.
Desire germinates even after our rainless decades. Yellow, again.
The color of sulfur (the devil’s realm) or the traitor’s door.
Of cowardice and warning. Of aging and decay.
How to recover what’s sifted away, the residue of our loves?
Each day more bits break off, never to be reattached.
But you, I blend with the sky, perfecting trees, the grass.
* * *
“Yellow, Lost” was published in wildness, Issue no. 10, in October 2017. wildness is an imprint of Platypus Press, which published my work Interval’s Night, a mini-digital chapbook, in December 2016 in their 2412 series. If you’re not familiar with wildness, check it out. In fall 2016 Poets & Writers named it in their article Nine New Lit Mags You Need to Read.
My poem “Dictionary of Dreams” is up at Kingdoms in the Wild. Many thanks to the editors for accepting this piece.
for Margaret Rhee
The body’s landscape defines its genealogy: my father was a board,
my mother, an integrated circuit, my great-grandmother, an abacus,
and her progenitors, tally sticks. In the third century the artificer
Yan Shi presented a moving human-shaped figure to his king, and
in 1206 Al-Jazari’s automaton band played to astonished audiences.
Nearly 300 years later Da Vinci designed a mechanical knight, and
four centuries after that Tesla demonstrated radio-control. Twenty-two
motors power my left hand; Asimov coined the term “robotics” in 1941.
Pneumatic tubes line my right. Linear actuators and muscle wire,
nanotubes and tactile sensors, shape my purpose, while three brains
spread the workload. If emotion = cognition + physiology, what do I
lack? I think, therefore I conduct, process, route and direct. Though
I never eat, I chew and crunch, take in, put out, deliver, digest. Life is
a calculation. Death, a sum. No heart swells my chest, yet my circuits
yearn for something undefined. Observe the blinking lights, listen for
the faint whir of cooling fans. I bear no lips or tongue, but taste more
deeply than you. Algorithms mean never having to say you’re sorry.
* * *
This piece was originally drafted during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 Challenge, and is dedicated to Margaret Rhee, whose book Radio Heart; Or, How Robots Fall Out of Love inspired me. Thanks Kris B. for sponsoring and providing the title!
At Work I Stand Observing My Diminished Self
Six iterations, alike but lessened in sequence, and always in pairs:
front and back, oblique, the two mirrors becoming four, then six.
A perfect mirror reflects and neither transmits nor absorbs light.
Tilting my chin, I accept reflectance according to its distribution.
Retina as transducer, producing neural impulses.
The images consume no space but the effect is of distance.
Vision is not simply the retina’s translation
but counts inference and assumption among its influences.
The sum and product of its parts: 1 + 2 + 3, or, 1 x 2 x 3.
Angles achieve distinctions apparent at each adjustment.
Turning slightly, I detect movement in each replica.
A six-door cubic cage depicting the bondage of sense and elements.
It is possible to withdraw from this frame.
Does the weaker eye perceive less.
Who conceals the shadow’s death.
Is a distal truth a lie or merely implication.
How do you rid the mirror of its ghosts.
What resonates in the echo’s decline.
Did the light switch subvert the blackened image.
Apparition, projection or visual representation.
When do waves not disturb.
At what point does belief transmute sight.
What fixes the mirror’s image.
Who closed his eyes and saw light.
I sip coffee and gaze out the second-floor window.
More light enters my neighbor’s office than mine.
Calculate the difference between illumination and glare.
Looking ahead, I claim no face and recognize no one.
The eye converts a signal from one form of energy to another.
Accepting light from external objects, I perceive reflection as the true arbiter.
The dissected path impairs transduction.
Face as identifier: to make, to do.
Translation: imperfection: diminishment.
* * *
“At Work I Stand Observing My Diminished Self” was published in Posit in October 2017.
N Is Its Child
If darkness produces all, from where do we obtain nothing?
As a line becomes the circle, becomes a mouth, becomes identity.
In mathematics, n signifies indefinite; in English, negation.
The no, the non, the withdrawal, the taking away.
A heart with trachea represented zero in Egyptian hieroglyphs.
My mouth forms the void through the displaced word.
Conforming to the absent, the missing tongue serves soundlessness.
Aural reduction, the infinite unclenched: n plus n.
Shiva, creator and destroyer, defines nothingness. As do you.
One and one is two, but zero and zero is stasis.
Pythagoreans believed that all is number, and numbers possess shape.
The letter N evolved from a cobra to its present form.
One may double anything but zero.
Unspoken thought, disorder. The attenuated voice swallowing itself.
* * *
“N Is Its Child” was first published in Issue 4 of Reservoir. I am grateful to editor Caitlin Neely for accepting this piece.
The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo
The difficulty lies in denying the rest,
pretending the denouement remains unknotted
like that length of rope looped over the branch,
unable to serve its purpose. I regret nothing,
but wish that perhaps I had dangled my feet
in the stream more often and felt the trout
wriggle by in their fluency of motion. Last year
my daughter claimed that as a half-mortal
what pulsed through her heart was not blood
but ichor, the life-force of gods, and when I
stated that her mother was from Muleshoe and
not Olympus, and that I may have been the
product of divine intervention, but was neither
god nor blessed creature, she spat wine in my
face, laughed, grabbed my keys and chugged off
in the cherry-red Karmann Ghia I’d dubbed
La Gloria Roja. I’ve not seen that car again, but
I swear I’ve heard its custom klaxon ah-woo-gah
in strange small towns between train stops
and the lonely fields stretching out into the
blackness like memories losing traction. But
mostly I find myself in this house of books
and empty bottles, maintaining space and time,
herding shadows into their oblong boxes,
contemplating nooses and love, courage and
mortality, and the inability to step up, to swallow
what I most crave and do what must be done.
* * *
“The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was published in Main Street Rag in October 2017. I was fortunate to have two sponsors for the poem – Clyde Long, who provided three words (denouement, ichor and claxon) and Paul Vaughan, who offered the title. One never knows what will come of these sponsored pieces…