Jorie Graham: Ten poems
A curtain rose. I felt an obligation.
I tried to feel the thing that blossoms in me,
here in my seat, assigned,
the whole world intelligently lit
there up in front of me.
I tried to feel the untitled thing that blossoms in me.
The abnegation that doesn’t stutter, not at all, not once.
Or no, that stutters once and once only.
What the days are a rehearsal for: breathe in, breathe out.
What the held breath is ventriloqual for,
the eyes quickly shut then scribbled
the glance once again shouldering the broadcast out there, the loud
the glance ambushed once again by the apparent warmth of the
I blinked. Tomorrow came. Nothing came true.
Birds scattered and the minutes clucked, single-file.
Daggering, talkative, the breaths ministered to nothingness.
A tight bond, theirs. An hysterical love. Nevermind the things said-
those robberies. I love you, they said. Or in a broader sense
this example suggests … I tried to feel the days go on without me.
Walking in the park, a small tin of shoe-polish
nestled in the grass. From over the trees
the names of people were called-out via loudspeaker.
Then there were numbers: the score, incessant coarse ribbon, floated by
then smeared itself all over the sky …
The small hoe inside I’m supposed to love:
I tried to house it–no, I tried to gorge it.
I hovered round it with sentences to magnify the drama.
I cloaked it with waiting. I whispered don ‘t be afraid
and petitioned it with rapture–the plumed thing–the cross-dressed
lingering–dramatic–all my thin secrets giddy,
all my whispers free-spending … Tomorrow came.
Slowly it scattered. Then it came again–first fragile, eyes closed,
then, peeling away its cellophane, eyes striating open,
it did it again–and each time so easy; first blurring a bit, then,
the sparrows ascribble, the magnet rising, tomorrow
starting to strip itself clean again of itself. But casually. Tirelessly.
And without innuendo, friend. Just oh so plucky.
Peeling the minutes off, the little white worms.
Growing whiter. Quavering-up to a strong fine whiteness.
High varnish. Yet noncommittal. Giving thanks–or so it
seemed. Then backing away. Unexpurgated. Sort of
Then, again, tomorrow came. Never a chorus, only the hero.
And tomorrow, and tomorrow.
One after another, up into the floodlights.
I tried to feel the story grow, name by name,
one at a time. My eyes grew heavy, I could feel my attention slipping.
I tried to shoulder the whole necklace of accidents.
I waited for them all to reappear at the end.
To take a bow. All at once. All together. That I might remember.
Spelled from the Shadows
Trying to whisper life came back, the light came back.
It harshed-up the edges of the window-shade, curling its rims,
the room still grainy, dimpling,
and shinglings of shadows, layerings.
But the borders of the latex shade, braced against morning, gleamed.
The programming on the otherside leaked-deftly, splashily-
the acidly magnanimous harvest of the outside through-
high-pitched, fringed or winged,
framing insistent plenitudes.
Oh not as if evening had found me.
Or even the winter rushing.
Get up, get up. You are to walk and talk again, and breathe, and move.
Any manner of want, any world will do–any tint of mind-
lift up the shade.
You are the underside, thinking.
With your humility, with your colloquial plague (honor, desire),
and formulas for grief and loss ….. and shadows of other things unrelenting.
Get up. You must believe–prompt–with a snap of the wrist-
and the shade slap up with its skillful and hardly querulous whir-
It held you, once, the other side,
in its gossipy arms,
it seemed to gaze with its taut wide-awakeness
straight into your furious machine,
it wasn’t a shabby love–it held-
sentences poured from it in alleyways, sometimes in avenues,
the carpenters moved through them always needed,
cashiers added up the sum and it rose up from calculation
onto limpid sleek receipts–we paid–the eucalyptus shone-
the walkie-talkies heard each other clearly and the road got fixed.
It was a curious love, it didn’t think.
Each-other seemed a kind of waiting.
I know how simple all this sounds, in the light of ,
the ignorant sleep–so green–we now must labor in … And yes,
it is nice in here, in the blur,
in the year, and then the year, in the sleep where nothing’s won,
or lost, the shade leaking its ancient storyline,
shadows of flags-or are they birds–flapping across it now and then,
or maybe banners where the strong go by,
or clouds, or shrivelings of place, late leaves just now torn free,
or calculations tossed by a profounder logic-green?–I couldn’t
tell from here.
In the end must come merciless ignorance.
In the end must come time wasted utterly.
Across the shade now hands without arms–a picnic of bits–generations of
seeds–or are they wings–or instruments–a business deal, an alphabet?
What are we supposed to fear? Look, the frame of light before me
yawns, a glittery arctic acid yawn, effulgent, blazing,
slack, without fatigue,
a little wind in it now swelling the shade, off-white,
dropping the shade, lightflecks spit forth, bright bits of
a yawn frets forth, frame tacking left a bit then back,
No hero here–so sleep. Predestination gossips. Trophies splatter
against the shade where they are won, then lost, outside.
And then the sound of rain. Maybe a woman and a man
running a bit
then clinging to a tree.
What dimensions must the defeat acquire, the homecoming,
scrawling all over my skin, my sickly peering-in,
for me to finally hear the laughter? I know it’s there,
beneath the glittering exterior-latex, beneath the storyline and then the loss of
storyline–quick, bright derision-
oh these musicians make insidious tones-
clawing the singsong of their instruments …
How mocked the glance
dipping-about in this dawn becomes,
the mockery right up against
my retina, the envy in me blushing up against
the possible, the taste of the laughter as it slaps
my face, what a flat mask, what a lacerated singularity peering out.
A small thing, really, the laughter, it could be anywhere, now that the
revives against the walls, doodling, as if enamored of the sophistries,
thin midwinter strands, and bumps, and ontological vomitings
against the wall–the Dutton’s wall, the Franklin’s wall …
I saw it highlight then forget each twig, it held some light in it,
or, no, it twisted back, peeled-back, some light,
and then the light resumed its place;
each shadow spurred, sprung open, made to lacerate,
flavored by wind, toil, guise–is that a lyre? is that the engine
incorruptible?–shadows in which the thing is hid,
mocked suitors all as she unweaves.
I was stealthy, and timid, then felt the tonguing-up of blame.
I looked in all the places I had been.
I summoned up my wrong
and made a brittle climate for it
and it swelled–I turned–it seemed the caravans had just gone by-
the grass looked tall, the tips conceived their paraphrase of wind.
Outside the children sang and ran in circles to
a tinny tune. Outside
the shepherd fetched the wide and liquid herd back in. Outside
morning attends, its mask approaches and attends,
crows the musicians strike up black flames,
in clouds themselves churning along
from their impossible place of origin–oh impossible.
Something–not an idea–a tiny velocity.
How it sharpens the edges of the singular.
How loud the guests all round us have become,
day molting off,
no footprints anywhere,
every glance a skin, a rag thrown on the pile,
which raises in place of the world its gigantic debris,
the site of the I, the game of catch,
the dog at the end of the snarling chain.
What was his name? How can he tell if he is mine?
A gust inside the god.
A listening sliced-deep into the hearable.
A little temple of bone and sinew built;
blood rushing round.
A pasturing of molecules and thought….
Dawn’s weaving murmurings all round my head.
So carefully. Arranging it.
Not yet do the silky windows which,
all round me, still buried in last night’s acid
underneathly low–not yet do they
appear and stare–the folds of space
still hold them tight-
unuttered yet full-ready in the throat-
so many windowpanes–I feel them everywhere,
their mother-of-pearl-edged stupefied midwifery
about to start to glow again–(bright star!)-
cornered and comprehensive, row by row,
and then the offices of love,
assembly-line of little kisses down the block,
the sifting of the framed, the seen, from the mad flanking
(are you all right? was it a dream?)-
the dawn like something rusty starting its engines up again-
the gears of thirst and gravity,
the numberless lids spanking awake,
and though I can’t make out its frame,
a gate is swung, galactic gate, I hear the hinge,
the slavery raising itself chain by chain,
edges like little knives flooding the emptiness,
outlines radiating, innermost crevices rising up to be
retrospect settling-in, invisibly like dust,
self-containedness silting–here step, here lip-
here the forked ranking limbs, the skeletal sky
christening, incarnadine–and the slump of
and crispness settling into the vaguer bloom, mottled by such
as light allows
before the sun begins to sift
“they had almost reached the rim of the upper
world” I think
“when afraid that she might slip, impatient
to see her bright beloved face”–some flowers appearing now
from pressures I had not discerned before,
of light, of dew, bend heavy-headed, here and there,
heads grazing loam–a little wind-
“the wound still fresh upon her skin”
(somewhere in here the bright beloved face)
until the boundary-lines begin to silver into place,
and the dogs of perspective gather round me,
and the dogs divide me up amongst themselves, the dogs of
–(her hands thin air)(the wound still fresh)-
and the doorways come clear, and the driveways,
and the hurry now
throats opening everywhere, squalls of place like insect-clouds
my glances darting now, notional–my glances
tender-minded, yes, but prismatic,
the nationstate of my premises, the nationstate of my poised
the little lashed metronome of the singular, helpless blink-
and how even lurching, squinting, refusing to mend, it
patterns–advantage helplessly taken by
in–and the boundary-lines have
fallen–(“and under their tongues are mischief”)–and
the dogs of difference are all around me–and
“I” am poured out like water.
On my way home I hear, somewhere near dawn,
forged and stamped onto the high air,
cardinal-call–bejangled clarity gripping firm-
casting its pulverized acrylic interrogation
first once like a dropped red stitch
and then again like the start of
a silky argument
Shadowy as gloaming will allow,
I stand beneath. The paraphernalia of my listening
At every periphery, the glinting-
like a chafing of the visible by the roughnesses of night
till the raw, the swollen, the bristling edges of things
are ground-down-to again–the glinting
almost begins–yet how I want to make it
last, sightless narration,
before the cacophony of edges–forking, collating-
ignites again, orchestral…
For you–for us–I know I should listen hard,
but to penetrate what?-
my knowing to listen itself an aftermath of red,
my wanting to stop for you
already a cough
from my concealment
cracking the granular
Where are we going, friend?
I’m in the incarnate, hurrying home.
Where is the gladness–the oasis–the unyielding gleaming
you can’t see through–reflecting, reflecting–?
The winglike silences of just-before-dawn slur on.
Tiredness blossoms like a path, vectoring me.
Then, sugary at first, then monstrous, cuneiform,
as if a microscopic chain had rattled once-
bony lightninginvisible inscription-
the call is returned–or, no, another call, almost identical,
is cast–like a hoofmark on the upper registers-
across the housetops–as far as the park?-
and then the first again, at its stronghold up to the left of me,
and then the answering call again, the back-and-forth syringed, perfectly
designate, abyss all round the arc–above, below-
and the arc not suffering time–unwrinkling everything-
just the red currency of back and forth,
me in the wide romance of aftermath,
a muscle clenched between them–call and call-
like a bullet’s path yet where nothing is crossed,
no garmenture ripped, no body entered-
and then an aftertaste, as of ashes, in my mouth, from listening-
The End of Progress
(Eurydice to Orpheus)
Sleep. Sink. Don’t let the ceiling in.
The squad-car gliding watery around the block.
The day starting to float-in through the louvered cracks.
Forget the making now-
float in the repetitions of the far-
shift and unfasten in
the swarming lessenings-
your face downturned–the roomdarks floating towards
the lure of–the limits of-
your barely breathing
lie with the whisperings in which you are
lie tightly intertwined–unopen–petal yourself round
the stamen of
some green unuttered syllable-
Oh look at you-
as music slumbering over her instrument,
I bend so close your breathing warms the violent
of my sealed lips–I would not have
the daylight touch you-
I would not have the magnifications, the integrations
touch you–the thoughts–the faith that inly
feels–(they filter in: edges tongue-up into the
nor would I (as music) (slumbering) ever touch you
and risk awakening the song again-
my mouth at your still fingers now (though not so much
as grazing them)–shut lids leaned close to where the breaths
can moisten them.
I am meticulous.
The gods are gone.
I take your breath into my hair–nothing so clean
as this my microscopic distance from you–a clean so very small
even the sixteenth-note, the insect-wing, would snag–and yet
for all the tinfoiled bits of light
starting to streak your pillowed
brow–pooling like halogen into your open fist-
for all the ceiling’s leaning in–for all my face, my open
gaze landing on you-
my thought, my sequencing and chording brain-
and the tonguing down of the airy fire
demanding now we rise and witness it, play it,
all taut-strung crevices, serrations, frets-
(“composed at Clevedon, Somersetshire”)-
for all, I would not touch you, even so lightly, Sir, again,
now that the siren’s going off, elsewhere, somewhere,
darkening, refolding the surrounding air,
to make you stay there now,
to keep your thought sunk down, weighed-down
the steep incline–flung down-
to where there are
no gales, no wings,
no world so filled, no life within-
turned over and over and over and over
whose silky-black examination
finally is free
Studies in Secrecy
The secret we don’t know we’re trying to find, the thing
is it ironic? is it a sign of anything?–raw
vertigo the suction-point of which we now are trying to feed
into–the point devoid of ancestry, the bullioned point,
dwindling yet increasingly aswarm,
the chittering of manyness in it as it is made to
into a thrumming singleness-the secret–the place where the words
we are looking for it everywhere-
we look on my breast, we try the nipple,
we look in the gaiety of your fingertips, the curriculum
twisting and windy in the architecture of
my neck, my
open mouth–we look in your mouth-
we look, quick, into the day-before-yesterday–we look
we look again into your violent mouth,
into the edifice of your whisper, into the dwindling oxygen
we look into the glassy eyes we have between us-
we try not to shift, we stare,
there seems to be an enclosure in there, maybe a struck
note, an hypothesis,
we look in each other’s hair
as in ripe shrubs bearing and withering,
we feel time glide through the room, between our legs,
round through our glance–we think we can look in the walled-up
we let our nights get tangled, we try to stare-
if something happens–the phone rings, a cigarette is lit,
maybe a massacre, maybe in Spring the curtain
blossoms–gossamer–we look in there-
then we go back to the green-eyed heat, and stare,
beating on the icy film between each thing, knocking,
to see what’s happening,
“the wasteland grows; woe to him hiding wastelands
Neitzsche–Viking ’54–we look in there),
also look in “Alas, the time is coming when
man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing
beyond man”–“the string of his bow has forgotten
to whir”–it is a haze–the radio’s
on, the automated
churchbells ring–we start the matter up again, we cry, we finger
the folds–we open our lips–we bite our necks-
don’t make me explain, one wing of it is soot, one wing
of it is blood,
we lick it, we nibble aimlessly, not so much tired as
increasingly ignorant–the minutes barbed now–the
blue streak where we hear a siren louder now,
our shoulders glistening, our backs greasy with hope,
foraging now (we try the book again) (we try putting things
in each other
to see how much room)(“the earth has become smaller
and on it hop
the last men”) so that we have to start
saying the words again (the last men live longest)-
I love you I say–poor secret, did you need us?
did you need us to find you?-
(live longest-we have invented happiness, they say)-
I love you, you say, rising among the motes, the spores-
and forever and forever like a sleeve we slide the hissing secret in-
the golden-headed, the upthrown–have invented happiness say the
It turns out the child was not really watching
while its mother was raped. The child
was distracted. It didn’t recall.
Chains were dragging over the earth.
Sleep too. Two kinds of sleep.
And the drub–as of silk–of day against light.
And the chaos of daylight up against silk-
silk warped over flesh–silk warped into sheen on the interior
two coats of which the eyes of the child
now luster on–and the suck of such light–and the thrall
of the child notwithstanding the screaming-
and the mother, of course, suppressing the scream-
the two kinds of scream–or trying to-
and the chains still dragging over the earth-
and also scummy in spots the light on the wall,
there where it creases and corners, for example, this light,
rippling, over-reaching, the glance deft on the wall-
and the chain-link where the brain inhabits the glance-
and the push of the glance with its epic
where the wall is pocked,
scuttling where the paint is ripped …
The brain climbing barehanded onto that pleating white.
The mother being slowly doled-out by the friend.
And you can’t be afraid.
Where the eye is the hero.
Where the wall truly is a video arcade.
“Where there is personal liking, we
go”: where the ground is
plural. Where there’s a bony thing.
Where love won’t grow.
Where the cool of the wall (where for once his small hands,
unimpeded, can go)
feels thirsty, is sucking now, like rotting leaves,
where the palm can lay flat and feel such plenitude,
right there where the fretwork of the small screams,
like the icy breeze at the edge of the cliff, .
is taken into the cool of the wall–oh don’t
mistake me–the rape (ongoing) of the mother now
here in another part of the room,
late November, pipes knocking on,
is not overlooked out of simple terror
by the child in the corner
whom Domestic Violence Services will find .
tired but hopeful, reading, reading,
looking in here for where something is hiding,
thinking the light, sightseeing careful the muffling wall-
and so on now, and long before dawn–don’t frown–don’t
for grief: it is a trance: the paint on the barely imagined
pricking at the edges till something falls down-something
infinitesimal–something the size of flaking paint
breaking loose where a body hits a wall-
a pointless loosening and then the spooring-down: white bits: almost
which the child will notice are like the scream:
holding his free hand up to their fall:
one hand on the coolness of the wall, one reaching and pointing, then
to the nearly invisible toy that falls:
as if an important lid were lifting
–oh how we love the tiny things-
underneath, inside, the contents, the glance,
spinning the abundance into a fine, strong linen-
believe this–it can do–it can hold-
so that, yes, be afraid–fear the air and its steps-
fear restlessness–fear the rat-
fear life without water-
fear boundless joy–fear excellence, plenty-
fear the simplified creature–fear the flight from danger-
do not fear for the child-
propped on its hind legs,
awaiting its orphanhood-
do not fear for the child
now rising to greet its likeness on the wall,
placing its hands on the shadow’s hands,
conferring wings on what it grips-
“as the air-plant does”–a true divinity-
knowing how to dive eye-first to a thing-
do not fear for the child,
its gold is hid.
Recovered from the Storm
I went out afterwards to see.
Wide silvery hypotheses of memorizing waters.
In them–so deeply–the incomplete pictures.
Twigs, seeds, nuts, limbs scattered over streets,
distemper’s trophies gathering round our footfalls.
I looked at them carefully, wide-awake in that monologue.
Some branches thrown down in the middle of things.
Cars not yet venturing. Dusk so blue in its black.
And whole bushes torn from some too-thin origin.
And drowned heads of things strewn wildly through
our singular, tender, green,
Am I supposed to put them back together-
these limbs, their leaves, the tiny suctioned twig-end joints–?
these branches shoved deep into my silky glance–?
these maples’ outtakes streaked over the lawn–their thorns, their blithe
footnotes … ? And the trellis cracked from the weight of the freefall?
And the boxelder standing like an overburdened juggler-
so laden now he cannot remember
the sugary spinnings, the bright fingerings of .. .
Oh limpid puddles with your ditties of fate …
There’s a shovel by the window.
There’s contagion by the gutter.
There’s a cartoon upstairs where the children are hidden.
So this is the wingbeat of the underneathly, ticking-
this iridescent brokenness, this wet stunted nothingness-
busy with its hollows–browsing abstractly with its catastrophic
the tops of our world, ripping pleatings of molecule,
unjoining the slantings, the slippery wrinklings we don’t even grasp
the icily free made-nature of yet?
Why are we here in this silly moonlight?
What is the mind meant to tender among splinters?
What was it, exactly, was meant to be shored?
Whose dolled-up sorceries against confusion now?
The children are upstairs, we will keep them tucked in-as
long as we can, as long as you’ll let us.
I hear your pitch. How containment is coughing,
under the leafbits, against the asphalt.
How the new piles of kindling are mossily giggling
their kerosene cadenza
all ‘long the block in the riddled updrafts.
I pick up and drag one large limb from the path.
After the rain there was traffic behind us like a long kiss.
The ramp harrowing its mathematics like a newcomer who likes the rules-
glint and whir of piloting minds, gripped steering-wheels …
Jacob waiting and the angel didn’t show.
Meanwhile the stations the scanner glides over, not selecting, hiss-
islands the heat-seekers missed
in the large sea of….And after lunch
the long-distance starts up pianissimo–telephone wires glinting where the
old frontage road
parallels the interstate for a little, narrow, while.
Elsewhere, from the air, something softens the scape-
which activity precedes, though doesn’t necessarily require,
the carpet-bombing that often follows-And
the bands of our listening scan
the bands of static,
seeking a resting point, asymptotic, listening in he hiss
for the hoarse snagged points where meaning seemingly
accrues: three notes: three silences: intake
of breath: turnstile?: a glint in fog?: what the listener
will wait-into, hoping for a place to
stop … Jacob waited and the angel didn’t-
Once off the interstate, we exhausted the tangible.
The plan seemed to dagger forward on its own, towards the horizon-line,
the future its mother-of-pearl cadaver, down there, where the map continues
onto the next blue page…. Our plan.
One must not pretend one knew nothing of it.
One must not pretend one didn’t tenderly finger its heavenly style.
The skyline itself, bluing now towards evening,
the spidery picture of the plan we tongued-up-
unquenchable–where were you?–never-to-be-defined,
solo first-fruit performance for which the eye
is still intended.. What shall we move with
now that the eye must shut? What shall we sift with
now that the mind must blur? What shall we undress the veilings of dusk with,
what shall we harvest the nothingness with,
now that the hands must be tucked back in their pockets,
now that the bright shirt of the over-ripe heart
must be taken off and the skin of things restored,
the long-haul restored (where the quicknesses had reigned),
the carpenter arriving as if out of the skyways
with a measure in hand, a sad eye, a vague patience-
the tongue-tied carpenter ready to scribble and strengthen …
Our plan … To get the beauty of it hot.
The angel called out but Jacob, Jacob …
Down by the riverbed I found some geese asleep.
I could see the billboards, but they were across the water.
Maybe two hundred geese–now beginning to stir,
purring and cooing at my walking among them.
Groping their armless way, their underneaths greening.
A slow roiling. A hundred redundancies. Squirming as they swarm and sponge
over the short wet grass–bunchy–the river behind them
no common motion in their turbaned brooding,
foliage darkening to feathers above their vague iridescence …
A mess of geese. Unperfectable. A mess
of conflicting notions. Something that doesn’t have to be
imagined. An end-zone one can have pushed forward to,
here at the end of the path, what the whole freeway led to,
what the whole adventure led to, over three oceans,
galleys, slaves, log-books,
tiny calculations once it got dark enough to see,
what the whole madness led to–the curiosity–like a virus–here,
like a sign–thick but clear–here at the bottom of the sedge,
the city still glimmering over there in the distance,
but us here, for no reason, where the mass of geese are rousing,
necessity and circumstance quivering in each other’s arms,
us in each other’s arms, or, no, not really.
The angel was on the telephone.
No, Jacob was on the telephone.
There was no doorway through which to pass.
For either of them. No flaming gateway. No wafer-thin scribble
Was it really, then, a pasttime, the hostile universe?
Was the wrestling a mental color, an architecture of mockery,
a self-portrait of the unmargined thing by the margined thing?
The geese seemed to assemble, the freeway hissed.
Oh to sleep the sleep of those who are alive….
The brain extended its sugared fingertips.
Itching so to create something new.
Slightly, profoundly, the riverbottom gleamed.
Then here, and here, a freckling of the light,
as where parts curdle-up
to fetch a whole–and the birds lift up-
and from the undulant swagger-stabs of peck and wingflap,
collisions and wobbly runs–out of the manyness-
a molting of the singular,
a frenzied search (unflapping, heavy) for cadence, and then
cadence found, a diagram appearing on the air, at arctic heights, an armoring
the light puts on-stagger of current-flap become unacrobatic industry,
no tremble in it,
no echo–below, the freeway lustrous with accurate intention-
above us now, the sky lustrous with the skeleton of the dream of reason–look up!-
Jacob dreamer–the winged volumetrics chiseling-out a skull for the dream-
Copyright World Poetry, Incorporated Nov 1995
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