Claudia Emerson

Claudia Emerson Poems


It was first dark when the plow turned it up.
Unsown, it came fleshless, mud-ruddled, nothing
but itself, the tendon's bored eye threading
a ponderous needle. And yet the pocked fist

I think by now it is time for the second cutting.
I imagine the field, the one above the last

house we rented, has lain in convalescence
long enough. The hawk has taken back the air

For three years you lived in your house
just as it was before she died: your wedding
portrait on the mantel, her clothes hanging
in the closet, her hair still in the brush

Two boys, not quite men, pretended to let it go only to catch it again and again. And the turtle, equally determined, each time gave its heart to escape them. We were near the base of the old dam where the river became a translucent

The forecast had not predicted it,
and its beginning, a calming, rumbled dusk

and pleasant lightning, she welcomed as harbinger
of rain. Then as night came she heard the world

Bells sound them from sleep, and their imaginations
rise, recite all they have been told: the curtains

of fire, the beds, nightgowns, their hair, their hair.
They've practiced this escape before

The camera is trained on the door, no one
in the frame, only the dog sleeping. And then
finally, I see this was to surprise you,
filming your arrival, the dog's delight. Only now,

That summer, we did not simply walk through
the valley of the shadow of death; we set up camp there,

orchestrating funerals for the anonymous,
found dead: a drowned mole—its small, naked palms

How she must have dreaded us and our sweaty coins, more
than we hated practice, the lessons, scales, the winter-hot parlor,

her arthritic hands, the metronome’s awful tick. She lectured

I have asked him to tell it—how
he heard the curing barn took hours

to burn, the logs thick, accustomed
to heat—how, even when it was clear all

Every time I go back home, my mother
tells me I should begin to think now about what I will and will not want - before something happens and I have to. Each time

There was no one to tell, so it settled
in the lines of the house, in doorframes, ceilings, sills.

In the late afternoons that followed, she heard
what could have been someone knocking; a cardinal

We didn't know what woke us—just something
moving, lighter than our breathing. The world
bound by an icy ligature, our house

was to the bat a hollow, warmer cavity

She had been a late and only child to parents
already old and set; none of us had ever

wanted to go inside that hushed house
and play with her, her room too neat, doll-crowded.

Some of your buddies might come around
for a couple of beers and a game,
but most evenings, you pitched horseshoes

alone. I washed up the dishes

I sent you a list of what I wanted, and you boxed it up carelessly, as though for the backs
of strangers, or for the fire, the way you might

have handled a dead woman's possessions—when you

This evening's study the anatomy of the orchid,
the greenhouse glows—jut of glass at the third story

of the science building—a small, tended jungle
thriving in its humid room. Wearing identical


One rusty horseshoe hangs on a nail
above the door, still losing its luck,
and a work-collar swings, an empty
old noose. The silence waits, wild to be

You always washed artifacts
at the kitchen sink, your back
to the room, to me, to the mud

you'd tracked in from whatever

It began with the first baby, the house
disappearing threshold by threshold, rooms

milky above the floor only her heel,
the ball of her foot perceived. The one thing real

Claudia Emerson Biography

Claudia Emerson was an American poet who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Late Wife. Background Emerson attended Chatham Hall, the University of Virginia (English, 1979) and completed a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, 1991 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Emerson is a professor of English, and Arrington Distinguished Chair in Poetry at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is a contributing editor of the literary magazine Shenandoah. On August 26, 2008, she was appointed Poet Laureate of Virginia, 2008 - 2010, by Governor Timothy M. Kaine. Emerson's work has been included in such anthologies as Yellow Shoe Poets, The Made Thing, Strongly Spent: 50 Years of Shenandoah Poetry (Shenandoah, 2003), and Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets of Virginia, (University of Virginia Press, 2003). Emerson lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia with her husband, Kent Ippolito, a musician who plays with various types of bands, including bluegrass, rock, folk, jazz, blues and ragtime. The couple were married in 2000 and together write songs and perform. Emerson was Guest Editor of Visions-International (published by Black Buzzard Press) in 2002. Honors The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Intro Award, 1991 Academy of American Poets Prize, 1991 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1994 (As Claudia Emerson Andrews) Virginia Commission for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship, 1995 and 2002 University of Mary Washington Alumni Association Outstanding Young Faculty Award, 2003 Witter Bynner Fellowship from Library of Congress, 2005 Poet Laureate of Virginia 2008 - 2010 Library of Virginia Virginia Women in History, 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, 2011)

The Best Poem Of Claudia Emerson


It was first dark when the plow turned it up.
Unsown, it came fleshless, mud-ruddled, nothing
but itself, the tendon's bored eye threading
a ponderous needle. And yet the pocked fist
of one end dared what was undone
in the strewing, defied the mouth of the hound
that dropped it.
The whippoorwill began
again its dusk-borne mourning. I had never
seen what urgent wing disembodied
the voice, would fail to recognize its broken
shell or shadow or its feathers strewn
before me. As if afraid of forgetting,
it repeated itself, mindlessly certain.
I threw the bone toward that incessant claiming,
and watched it turned by rote, end over end over end.

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