Grammar of Mystery

How much in shadow.

To resist the floodlight’s patrolling glare, its demands and agendas, its attendant megaphone, in favor of a posture of listening, a touch whispered enough to elicit shivers of recognition. This earned denial of easy access. The elegant strength, to hold a posture possessed of substance so rich that it will be perennially misunderstood in this landscape, resisting the impulse to break the pose of perfect opacity––to correct, as the saying goes, by shedding some light.

How else could you photograph sound?

Here is the wise light of the dark surface, opening,

in praise of the unknown, unnamed

here is a deft grammar of mystery.

How much to be,

how much to be imagined

in these shadows.

Look, do not look,

but see.


Inspired by the work of Roy DeCarava.

Tell it Slant

What I keep meaning to remember.

Give me only indirect truths, the kind only hinted at; the back parts of God, sashaying away, a hunger no feast can satisfy. 

This vessel will hold only the sediments of these, and just barely, porous as it is––and still it’s prone to hairline fractures on impact. They are the kind that won’t kill you, for which the prescription is always “Give it time,” but you will always feel.

Feel what? Only this teasing reminder back to the joke about being the sort of person others call solid, as if there were anything else more ripe for breaking, as if faith, on most days, is anything more than the dogged continuance of this half-blind driver who is forever losing their keys.


Reading Christian Wiman this morning, who underscores an observation made by the brilliant Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Herschel, remarking how “faith is primarily faithfulness to a time when we had faith . . . a tenuous, tenacious discipline of memory and hope.”

Solitary Shining

Starry notes.

Consider the ancient star’s strange courage and this large man, reading. Watch this spirit storm the walls, the transparent body trying to translate its former substance.

Most poets are too late and too soon, with too much of the world to rush forward, pulling back, having nothing but this cry for the occasion, a flash of voice calling keep you to what goes and come to what will not.


Opening lines nod to this verse from William Carlos Williams: “It’s a strange courage/ you give me ancient star:/ Shine alone in the sunrise/ toward which you lend no part!” (“El Hombre,” 1917).

Diving in the Desert

Metaphor and unknowns.

The space between fiction and nonfiction is often a no-man’s land, but the artists know it. Which is to say, they have become accustomed to its strangeness. Which is to say, accustomed to not claiming to know anything about a space so wild. 

Now it is dense to the point of opacity, now translucent. Now deep dives under desert waves, now a barren ocean. Now the weather is a cat. 

We asked one, what is your work about? When they were done laughing, they told us. It is about encounters with other people, they said. And water. Also, the search. For water, and for the others. In some places, both are elusive.


Inspiration: While considering the work of Ivan Vladislavić,  I came across this article: “Diving the Reef: Water Metaphors in the Work of Ivan Vladislavić” and today’s post sprouted from my notes.

Bee Dream

Against collapse.

A single wanderer creeps from a hollow to the wild purple bloom, the yellow cluster, to fall asleep, pollen-drunk in what I like to imagine as a kind of ecstasy. But I don’t know how long he has been at it, looking for the others, reading the air for the compass dance to bring him home. 

The Use of Form

Bodies of work.

One advantage to poetry is that requires no heavy apparatus to carry around. Only this body, heavy enough when conscious. Unconscious, the form is dead weight, nearly impossible to move.  And yet, when awakened to its fullest extent, nearly weightless. Here again is another advantage to the form. Of poetry, of the body.

Both remind. This is how it is possible to float, vertically tethered and horizontally webbed. In this poem, our feet in the earth may stir the unborn forest. In this poem, someone calls across the sea, Friend. Across and between each continent and each impossible divide.

Friend, this speaker calls. Don’t dismiss me to the murmuring masses you mean to float above. Friend, comes this voice, hold fast to me. These bodies, in the end, are all we may carry, and nothing but their given songs. Put up your sword, friend. Each must be held, or nothing holds. We are going to need both hands.


Inspired by the work of Tomas Tranströmer.

Necessary Work

Art of the possible.

It was a time of redreaming, of finding our way. The old compass was broken. We wanted to learn to make new. It is possible, we reminded one another, to do this.

Where mass death pervades, it contaminates the horizon of the possible. There is a very thin line, in these times, between rebirth and psychosis.

To be reborn in an age of mass death means that you will speak and act in ways not encouraged as you push against the killing, which has its way by silence.


These are notes made over a brilliant conversation between Amal Khalaf and Adelita Husni Bey, featured in the most recent issue of  BOMB magazine. One point of particular interest to me involved discussion of the work of Italian anthropologist, Ernesto de Martino. The second paragraph is a paraphrase of de Martino.


The sign of life.

From this cocoon

I will burst one day

a healed woman

to carry the babies

inside a new dream.

We will walk

toward the seven

mountains again,

no longer in terror

of Time.


Inspired by Toni Morrison: “One looks to history for the feel of time or its purgative effects; one looks through art for its signs of renewal” (from “The Future of Time” in The Source of Self-Regard).


To frame what moves.

The bend of years is partial, a pockmarked continuum of dropped stitches against the fast-forward spit of a seventh-inning pitcher known for curves.

This made us cling: to the bodies of pets, lovers, the photos of children––ours, the ones we had been, the ones we never knew, could not remember, and the new dead. 

We could not name our joys, only the pause between days in which we called our exiled silences back home to hang them on loops of the threads we meant to weave back into place, somehow. 

My daughter is sleeping, and I want to cup my hands around her face, to frame for a moment what won’t be kept, to hold inside the curve the stillness of an original praise song, the only one with any bearing and still it won’t quite hold. Look at you. There you are. Come here.

For the Time Being

The volume of shadows.

Two trees, one real enough to be seen, another seen well enough to last the length of a dream. But neither can ever become real. This from Hannah Arendt, and now the alarm can’t wake me.

The sun is visible one moment and then less so in another but indicates nothing of sorrow or regret. It offers shadow. We see by the shadows. We measure them. Once, someone considered their lengths, prone to stretch and collapse, and asked, what do they mean? A decision was made. These mean Time.

Numbers were assigned to the lengths, etcetera, etcetera–– but some of us here, so often delayed as measured against a standard pace, retain some skepticism about these systems. Of their presumed inviolability, a separate matter from their usefulness.

Trees cast long shadows and are associated with knowledge and wisdom, and yet standard practice rejects the idea of arboreal sentience. In a world bent on speed, stillness so often gets mistaken for stupidity.

But only in stillness do certain questions show up. What is the length of the water on a face, bearing witness to the beginning or the end of a life? And the volume of this shadow of the solitary pilgrim on the long road in late afternoon? 

I still don’t know. But speech is an act of making concessions. Consider the first lessons of any language not inherited. Standard practice begins with the basics for moving through a landscape: Hello. My name is. What time is it? It is an o’clock. How are you?

The last of these is the least amenable to explanatory language, wanting only touch and smell and song.


I came across Arendt’s words in an epigraph to Ann Lauterbach’s Spell. My italicized presentation in the opening lines is a paraphrase.

A video reading of this post appears here.