Visiting Poets

Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham

Author of numerous collections of poetry, including The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems (winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize), The Errancy (named by the New York Times as one of the “Notable Book of 1997”) and, most recently, SwarmJorie Graham is celebrated for her lyrical, sensuous writing and her intensely personal style.

“She provides,” writes The Nation, “all the satisfactions we expect from poetry-aural beauty, emotional weight-along with an intellectual rigor we don’t expect.” Graham was recently appointed Boylston Professor at Harvard University and divides her time between Iowa and Massachusetts.

Select Poems

See how they hurry
to enter
their bodies,
these spirits.
Is it better, flesh,
that they

should hurry so?
From above
the green-winged angels
blare down
trumpets and light. But
they don’t care,

they hurry to congregate,
they hurry
into speech, until
it’s a marketplace,
it is humanity. But still
we wonder

in the chancel
of the dark cathedral,
is it better, back?
The artist
has tried to make it so: each tendon
they press

to re-enter
is perfect. But is it
they’re after,
pulling themselves up
through the soil

into the weightedness, the color,
into the eye
of the painter? Outside
it is 1500,
all round the cathedral
streets hurry to open

through the wild
silver grasses…
The men and women
on the cathedral wall
do not know how,
having come this far,

to stop their
hurrying. They amble off
in groups, in
couples. Soon
some are clothed, there is
distance, there is

perspective. Standing below them
in the church
in Orvieto, how can we
tell them
to be stern and brazen
and slow,

that there is no
only entering. They keep on
wanting names,

happiness. In his studio
Luca Signorelli
in the name of God
and Science
and the believable
broke into the body

studying arrival.
But the wall
of the flesh
opens endlessly,
its vanishing point so deep
and receding

we have yet to find it,
to have it
stop us. So he cut
graduating slowly
from the symbolic

to the beautiful. How far
is true?
When one son
died violently,
he had the body brought to him
and laid it

on the drawing-table,
and stood
at a certain distance
awaiting the best
possible light, the best depth
of day,

then with beauty and care
and technique
and judgment, cut into
shadow, cut
into bone and sinew and every

in which the cold light
It took him days,
that deep
caress, cutting,

until his mind
could climb into
the open flesh and
mend itself.

From EROSION (Princeton University Press, 1983)

Dawn – or is it sea-blue – fills the square.
Two in a room asleep with that window.
And dark thinning inside the view.
And human breathing.
And freedom in the room like a thin gray floating.
And doctrine.
And other kinds of shine rising off the edges of things –
as if the daylight were a doctor arriving,
each thing needing to be seen …
Soon the sunlight
will want to be changed.
Will want to be caught up in the weavings of freedom.
To be caught up in the wide net and made to have edges –
light coming in, so acidly, with the strength of wind or an ox …
Outside, slowly, the grapes seem fatter.
The cat moves its tail once in sleep.
The silence is largest wherever an eye alls.
Somebody’s glance smokes through the blues until they start to
feel …?
But it is all chalky.
All asleep, all unalive.
An icy thing, even in its fluency,
the tree, the stone heroically built up into a wall,
each stone in the mind of its mason, elsewhere, asleep,
the cat in the sleep of its owner, the purple light, muscular,
more days, more nights, more roads, shouts, flowers,
all making towards what pebbled shore,
each changing place with that which went before –
and forwards, forwards, how it all contends,
across the crookedness to be itself, to be at last, the crown,
the jeweled asterisk that stops that very moment still,
the place the parallels, the cruelties, do, for just a fraction
of a pebbled instant,
meet – (save that to die I leave my love alone) –
possibly rain oncoming – on the sidewalk down below
could it be steps, or is it just the clock? –
does it arrive and dissipate? –
no, it splatters like
thousands of thoughts,
replacing all the listening –
sea of ideas – so blue –
although you can hear something like cuts in the blue –
and one can feel how the boat feels –
all of the freedom swirling and slapping round the keel, the here,
foaming round, as feelings – and still the pitch of the dawn
grasping at transparence, as if something like an hour were
to plash in, and make, and make …? what would it make? –
and in the suddenly awakening one:
an upwards glance, one take – a main-mast starting up –
sails glimpsing about, quick rules and suppositions – coalescings –
and then the single sturdier open gaze cast up: a stare: a fear:
why is father lashed to it?
why is mother singing?

From THE ERRANCY (Ecco Press, 1997)

I wanted you to listen to the bells,
holding the phone out the one small window
to where I thought
the ringing was –

Vespers scavenging the evening air,
headset fisted against the huge dissolving
of the out-

side – a vow being exchanged
where I stare at the tiny holes in the receiver’s transatlantic opening
to see evening-light and then churchbells

send their regrets, slithering, in –
in there a white flame charged with duplication –
I had you try to listen, bending down into the mouthpiece to whisper,

can you hear them (two petals fall and then the                    is wholly
changed) (yes) (and then another yes like a vertebrate enchaining)
yes yes yes yes

We were somebody. A boat stills on a harbor and for a while no one

not on deck, not on shore,
only a few birds glancing round,

then – before a single face appears – something
announces itself
like a piece of the whole blueness broken off and thrown down,
a roughness inserted,

the infinite variety of having once been,
of being, of coming to life, right there in the thin air, a debris re-

assembling – a blue transparent bit of paper flapping in also-blue air –

boundaries being squeezed out of the blue, out of the inside of the blue,
human eyes
held shut,

and then the whisking-open of the lash – the be thou, be thou –

– a boat stills in a harbor and for a while no one
appears – a sunny day, a crisp Aegean blue,
easy things – a keel, a sail –

why should you fear? –
me holding my arm out into the crisp December air –
beige cord and then the plastic parenthetical opening wherein I have you

– you without eyes or arms or body now – listen to

the long ocean between us

– the plastic cooling now – this tiny geometric swarm of
openings sending to you

no parts of me you’ve touched, no places where you’ve

gone –

Two petals fall – hear it? – moon, are you not coming soon? – two fall

From SWARM (Ecco Press, 2000)

Poetry Center Reading

Fall 2000