Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham Poems

is by admitting
or opening away.
This is the simplest form
of current: Blue

I watched them once, at dusk, on television, run,
in our motel room half-way through
Nebraska, quick, glittering, past beauty, past
the importance of beauty.,

In this blue light
I can take you there,
snow having made me
a world of bone

Today, because I couldn't find the shortcut through,
I had to walk this town's entire inner
perimeter to find
where the medieval walls break open

Up ahead, I know, he felt it stirring in himself already, the glance,
the darting thing in the pile of rocks,

already in him, there, shiny in the rubble, hissing Did you want to remain


The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes

Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-

Shall I move the flowers again?
Shall I put them further to the left
into the light?
Win that fix it, will that arrange the

Up, up you go, you must be introduced.

It has a hole in it. Not only where I


All this was written on the next day's list.
On which the busyness unfurled its cursive roots,
pale but effective,
and the long stem of the necessary, the sum of events,

The man held his hands to his heart as
he danced.
He slacked and swirled.
The doorways of the little city

In the fairy tale the sky
makes of itself a coat
because it needs you
to put it

This is the story
of a beautiful
lie, what slips

Look she said this is not the distance
we wanted to stay at—We wanted to get
close, very close. But what
is the way in again? And is it

too late? She could hear the actions
rushing past—but they are on
another track. And in the silence,
or whatever it is that follows,

there was still the buzzing: motes, spores,
aftereffects and whatnot recalled the morning after.
Then the thickness you can't get past called waiting.

Then the you, whoever you are, peering down to see if it's
done yet.
Then just the look on things being looked-at.
Then just the look of things being seen.

Then the cicadas again like kindling that won't take.
The struck match of some utopia we no longer remember
the terms of—
the rules. What was it was going to be abolished, what
restored? Behind them the foghorn in the harbor,
the hoarse announcements of unhurried arrivals,
the spidery virgin-shrieks of gulls, a sideways sound, a slippery
utterly ash-free
and then the subaqueous pasturings inexhaustible
phosphorous handwritings the frothings of their own excitements now
erase, depth wrestling with the current-corridors of depth ...
But here, up on the hill, in town,
the clusterings of dwellings in balconied crystal-formation,
the cadaverous swallowings of the dream of reason gone,
hot fingerprints where thoughts laid out these streets, these braceletings
of park and government—a hospital—a dirt-bike run—
here, we stand in our hysteria with our hands in our pockets,
quiet, at the end of day, looking out, theories stationary,
while the freight, the crazy wick, once more slides down—
marionette-like its being lowered in—
marionette-strung our outwaiting its bloody translation ...
Utopia: remember the sensation of direction we loved,
how it tunneled forwardly for us,
and us so feudal in its wake—
speckling of diamond-dust as I think of it now,
that being carried forward by the notion of human
perfectibility—like a pasture imposed
on the rising vibrancy of endless diamond-dust ...
And how we would comply, some day. How we were built to fit and
as handwriting fits to the form of its passion,
no, to the form of its passionate bearer's fingerprintable i.d.,
or, no, to the handkerchief she brings now to her haunted face,
lifting the sunglasses to wipe away
the theory—or is it the tears?—the freight now all
in her right hand, in the oceanic place we'd pull up
through her wrist—we'd siphon right up—
marionette with her leavening of mother-of-pearl—
how she wants to be legible, how the light streaking her shades now
grows vermilion,
which she would capture of course, because that, she has heard,
from the rumorous diamond-dust, is what is required,
as also her spirit—now that it has been swallowed
like a lustrous hailstone by her unquenchable body—suggests—the zero
at the heart of the christened bonfire—oh little grimace, kiss, solo
at the heart—growing refined, tiny missionary, in your brightskirted
scorched comprehension—because that is what's required,
her putting down now the sunset onto that page,
as an expression of her deepest undertowing sentiment,
which spidery gestures, tongued-over the molecular whiteness,
squared out and stretched and made to resemble emptiness,
will take down the smoldering in the terms of her passion
—sunglasses on the table, telephone ringing—
and be carried across the tongue-tied ocean,
through dusk, right through it, over prisons, over tiny clapboard houses
to which the bartender returns, exhausted, after work,
over flare-ups of civil strife, skeletons rotting in the arms of
skeletons, the foliage all round them gleaming,
the green belly-up god we thought we'd seen the last of,
shuddering his sleep off, first fruit hanging ripe—oh bright red zero—
right there within reach, that he too may be nourished,
you know this of course, what has awakened which we thought we'd
us still standing here sword in hand, hand extended,
frail, over the limpid surface of the lake-like page,
the sleep-like page, now folded and gently driven into
its envelope, for the tiny journey, over offices, over sacrifices,
to its particular address, at the heart of the metropolis,
where someone else is waiting, hailstone at the core,
and the heat is too great, friend, the passion in its envelope,
doors slamming, traffic backing-up, the populace not really
abandoned, not really, just very tired on its long red errancy
down the freeways in the dusklight
towards the little town on the hill—the crystal-formation?—
how long ago was it we said that? do you remember?—
and now that you've remembered—and the distance we've
traveled—and where we were, then—and
how little we've found—aren't we tired? aren't we
going to close the elaborate folder
which holds the papers in their cocoon of possibility,
the folder so pretty with its massive rose-blooms,
oh perpetual bloom, dread fatigue, and drowsiness like leavening I

You. You at the door a crumpled thing when I open
surprised. Sing, you hiss. Prosecute, sentence, waving your thin not-arms like dollar
bills, your bewildering moldy skin — one or two of you are you, are you a god now,
bony, wing-beaten down, smaller than
ever, not dead as you should be but not
alive either as you indicate mumbling almost falling in on
your clawed feet — I still have desire — you float — at my
small door — me inside — me inside life. Are you newborn now, I
ask. Are you remnant. Why. Why are there moneylenders
you say swatting me away when I ask can I help, growing more
crumbled, but more than just cloth — all feather,
burlap, beak, fingergrip, all edge and cling. A thing not
formed or not divided yet. Pre-conception. Just at the threshold. Almost falling in your
uneven crouching. Your chest a pulsation. A languishment that will not

die. What is die. Now there is not blood on the earth
anymore. We disappear. We pixilate. Races or places, is it.
Which? Remember what it was to carry your load? Your you. That
weight. Wondrous it was. At intervals light-struck. Silence and then the
cutting of water, sleeping audible, thrown about by breath, keeping a sharp lookout —
here's where free choice vanished, here rights, here the
real meaning of the word — (you choose) — consequence, capital, commodity, con-
sumption. Community? Come here says time. Just try to
find it, the here. Such a good game to keep you
occupied for now. The rest of the now. It's going to be a long
time. Why are you here. What are they lending you.
How can it be loaned. What is a loan. The changers.
Who gets to keep it. No one gets to keep it. No one. None of it.
What is it. The money changers. What can

you change it into. What else do you
want the things to become. But it won't stay still as
currency either. It will be changed again.
Shape-shifting and all the other tiny adjustments. Currency
manipulation — feel it — all those other
hands on it, each with its own need, having
held it — grasped, changed, folded, tucked, handed — oh
look it becomes virtual — the fingerprint is lifted off,
its little stain — no one's need is on it any-
more. It's clean. It has never been, and never again
will be, touched. The looping ledger of the fingerprint's
wish. I signed my name to this. Did you. In the hush. At the center.
Among the closed shutters at the height of the day I
signed. I clenched the pen and then my dream. It flowed. No one is

ever at home. I don't know why. Had been told to live by any means
possible. Did. Beyond, the sea. You could feel this period coming to
an end. All of it. A bomb went off, legs went off, means went
off, blew off, like gossamer — nothing stalled — you couldn't get it to
stall — seemed painted-on but it was not, was sleeping, reality finally was
sleeping — so deeply — you couldn't wake it up again, you couldn't
wake yourself again — it rained — time sputtered now and then like a regurgitation
of space. It's a jail, light says, but it looks like just being
lost, full of the things we needed to learn, us ready to step up and offer
our lungs, intake and out, change me we say. We want to be
identified, written-in, collected. Worth me up. Give me my true
value ...
But still I have to bring this to you in these
words, cracked glaze all over it, little holes over it, belief drilled through,
self, that boutique, gone under, such dark windows, history arrested ...

History arrested. How is that possible. It flowed. It flowed without us, us on it if we
could catch a ride sometimes. How do you live in this end. I look at you. You have been
through. Your war is done. I try to squint it in. Do you really want to
begin again. Is that why you're here. I feel I could count your
fingers, each hair left on you, each thread of skin, each crease. Four or five times you
cast a glance on us. But then it's done. Your passing by us now a
buzzing of flies. You stand at the window and the song begins. We don't know
what to do with it, the moon, that monster, the fame and the thirst,
the night out there a shirt rolled up to reveal what dusk had
hid — a murky heart, a love that would never be replaced.
But they are still there on the steps — the money changers. The steps
of evening rise. They want you to exchange. That is the sacrament. Why does he
keep throwing them out.
Day after day. Forever. Listen to me, you say, you are going off into
thought, it is not a real road. Take yourself

off the road. He is and is not but he is. And
you are always in the holy place. Because
just being in it makes it holy. Uphold it. Linger. Be eternal for this
instant. Lodge in. I cannot say in what. Have spent a lifetime saying in. In flow,
in promise, rich, in haste experiment crowd season in bias gnawing at
hope invisible in time standing in it confounded tongue in my mouth about to
curl up, speak, promise, taste promise, laugh at the ignorance, cherish
ignorance — don't leave — this is where I've arrived — don't
slip away, the reverse of the watching and waiting is finally here, wasn't mine, wasn't
me speaking either. Not anymore. This is that dream. The darling of
failure. No identification. All impending and then the now strikes. It is
unbreakable. It is. You must believe me. I want to be here and also there where you
receive this but I can't. That's the whole story. I will never know
what is there to know. You will not be changed. You must believe.

& sea swell, hiss of incomprehensible flat: distance: blue long-fingered ocean and its
nothing else: nothing in the above visible except
water: water and
always the white self-destroying bloom of wavebreak &, upclose
roil, &
here, on what's left of land,
ticking of stays against empty flagpoles, low tide, free day, nothing
memorialized here today — memories float, yes,
over the place but not memories any of us now among the living
possess — open your
hands — let go the scrap metal with the laughter — let go the
upstairs neighbor you did not
protect — they took him
away — let go how frightened you knew he was all
along while you went on with your
day — your day overflowing with time and
place — they came and got him — there are manners for every kind of
event — he stopped reading and looked up
when they came in — didn't anyone tell you
you would never feel at home — that there is a form of slavery in everything — and when was it
in your admittedly short
life you
were permitted to believe that this lasted
forever — remove your hands
from your pockets — take out that laundry list, that receipt for
everything you
pawned last night — decide whom to blame —
stick to your
story — exclude expectation of heavenly
reward — exclude
the milk of
human kindness — poisoned from the start — yes — who ever expected that
to be the mistake — with all the murderers and miracle workers — with the hovering
fairy tales — kites, angels, missiles, evening
papers, yellow stars — clouds — those were houses that are his eyes — those were lives that
are his
eyes — those are families, those are privacies, those are details — those are reparation
agreements, summary
judgments, those are multiplications
on the face of the earth that are — those are the forests, the coal seams, the
carbon sinks that are his —
as they turn into carbon sources — his —
and the festering wounds that are — and the granary that burned — and the quick blow
administered to make it
painless, so-
called — his eyes his yes his blows his seed's first
insertion into this our only soil —
& the flower, the cut
flower in my
bouquet here,
made from the walk we took this morning, aimless, as if free,
where you asked me to
marry you, & the loaf of
barley, millet and wheat I was able,
as a matter of course, to bring to the table, fresh-
in life.

All this was written on the next day's list.
On which the busyness unfurled its cursive roots,
pale but effective,
and the long stern of the necessary, the sum of events,
built-up its tiniest cathedral ...
(Or is it the sum of what takes place?)
If I lean down, to whisper, to them,
down into their gravitational field, there where they head busily on
into the woods, laying the gifts out one by one, onto the path,
hoping to be on the air,
hoping to please the children—
(and some gifts overwrapped and some not wrapped at all)—if
I stir the wintered ground-leaves
up from the paths, nimbly, into a sheet of sun,
into an escape-route-width of sun, mildly gelatinous where wet, though
mostly crisp,
fluffing them up a bit, and up, as if to choke the singularity of sun
with this jubilation of manyness, all through and round these passers-by—
just leaves, nothing that can vaporize into a thought,
no, a burning-bush's worth of spidery, up-ratcheting, tender-cling leaves,
oh if—the list gripped hard by the left hand of one,
the busyness buried so deep into the puffed-up greenish mind of one,
the hurried mind hovering over its rankings,
the heart—there at the core of the drafting leaves—wet and warm at the
zero of
the bright mock-stairwaying-up of the posthumous leaves—the heart,
formulating its alleyways of discovery,
fussing about the integrity of the whole,
the heart trying to make time and place seem small,
sliding its slim tears into the deep wallet of each new event
on the list
then checking it off—oh the satisfaction—each check a small kiss,
an echo of the previous one, off off it goes the dry high-ceilinged
checked-off by the fingertips, by the small gust called done that swipes
the unfinishable's gold hem aside, revealing
what might have been, peeling away what should ...
There are flowerpots at their feet.
There is fortune-telling in the air they breathe.
It filters in with its flashlight-beam, its holy-water-tinted air,
down into the open eyes, the lampblack open mouth.
Oh listen to these words I'm spitting out for you.
My distance from you makes them louder.
Are we all waiting for the phone to ring?
Who should it be? What fountain is expected to
thrash forth mysteries of morning joy? What quail-like giant tail of
promises, pleiades, psalters, plane-trees,
what parapets petalling-forth the invisible
into the world of things,
turning the list into its spatial form at last,
into its archival many-headed, many-legged colony....
Oh look at you.
What is it you hold back? What piece of time is it the list
won't cover? You down there, in the theater of
operations—you, throat of the world—so diacritical—
(are we all waiting for the phone to ring?)—
(what will you say? are you home? are you expected soon?)—
oh wanderer back from break, all your attention focused
—as if the thinking were an oar, this ship the last of some
original fleet, the captains gone but some of us
who saw the plan drawn out
still here—who saw the thinking clot-up in the bodies of the greater men,
who saw them sit in silence while the voices in the other room
lit up with passion, itchings, dreams of landings,
while the solitary ones,
heads in their hands, so still,
the idea barely forming
at the base of that stillness,
the idea like a homesickness starting just to fold and pleat and knot
out of the manyness—the plan—before it's thought,
before it's a done deal or the name-you're-known-by—
the men of x, the outcomes of y—before—
the mind still gripped hard by the hands
that would hold the skull even stiller if they could,
that nothing distract, that nothing but the possible be let
to filter through—
the possible and then the finely filamented hope, the filigree,
without the distractions of wonder—
oh tiny golden spore just filtering in to touch the good idea,
which taking-form begins to twist,
coursing for bottom-footing, palpating for edge-hold, limit,
now finally about to
rise, about to go into the other room—and yet
not having done so yet, not yet—the
intake—before the credo, before the plan—
right at the homesickness—before this list you hold
in your exhausted hand. Oh put it down.

here. Have been for centuries. No, longer. Everything already has
been. It's not a reasonable place, this continuum between us, and yet
here again I put the olive trees in, turn the whole hill-sweeping grove down, its
mile-long headfuls of leaves upswept so the whole valley shivers its windy silvers,

watery ... A strange heat is upon us. Again. That was you thinking that. I suggested it.
Maybe the wind did. We both put in the horizon line now, the great loneliness, its
grip, chaos recessed but still there. After finitude you shall keep coming toward me
it whines, whitish with non-disappearance. We feel the same about this. The same

what? We feel is there more. That's the default. We want to live with the unknown in
front of us. Receding, always receding. A vanishing moving over it all. A sleepy
vacancy. It's the sky, yes, but also this thinking. As from the start, again, here I am,
a mind alone in the fields. The sheep riding and falling the slants of earth. The

sleepiness a no-good god come to assume we are halfwits, tending, sleepy, the
animals gurgling and trampling, thistle-choked, stinging. A dove on a stone. No sky
to speak of, the god lingers, it wants to retire, it thinks this is endgame, what
could we be — mist about to dry off, light about to wipe a wall for no reason, that

random. This must have been way BC. Or is it 1944. Surely in 2044 we shall be
standing in the field again, tending, waiting to surprise the god who thinks he knows
what he's made. Well no. He does not know. We might be a small cavity but it
guards a vast hungry — how bad does that hurt you, fancy maker — you have no idea

what we turned our back on to come be in this field of earth and tend — yes tend —
these flocks of minutes, whispering till the timelessness in us is wrung dry and we
are heavied with endgame. Have I mentioned the soul. How we know you hustled
that in, staining all this flesh with it, rubbing and swirling it all over inside with

your god-cloth. Rinse. Repeat. Get this — here with this staff which soon I shall turn
into a pen again — brilliantly negligent, diligent, inside all this self truly formless — I
hear the laughter of the irrigation ditch I've made, I see the dry field blonde-up and
green, day smacks its lips, they are back, the inventors, they are going to do it

again, sprinkle-seed, joker rain coming to loosen it all. How many lives will we be
given, how many will we trade in for this — it comes in bushels, grams, inches, notes,
crows watch over it all as they always have, come back from the end of time to caw
it into its redo again. Cherish us. Will not stop. Nothing to show for it but doing. The

flock runs across as the dog chases and I walk slowly. I admire what I own what I am
and I think the night is nothing, the stars click their ascent, I feel it rise in me, the
word, I feel the skull beneath this skin, I feel the skin slick and shine and hide the
skull and it is from there that it rises now, I taste it before I say it, this song.

Jorie Graham Biography

Jorie Graham was born in New York City on May 9, 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 (Ecco, 2015); Place: New Poems (Ecco, 2012); Sea Change (Ecco, 2008); Never (2002); Swarm (2000); and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: “For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption — intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic — rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.” Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990. Her many honors include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.)

The Best Poem Of Jorie Graham

The Way Things Work

is by admitting
or opening away.
This is the simplest form
of current: Blue
moving through blue;
blue through purple;
the objects of desire
opening upon themselves
without us; the objects of faith.
The way things work
is by solution,
resistance lessened or
increased and taken
advantage of.
The way things work
is that we finally believe
they are there,
common and able
o illustrate themselves.
Wheel, kinetic flow,
rising and falling water,
ingots, levers and keys,
I believe in you,
cylinder lock, pully,
lifting tackle and
crane lift your small head-
I believe in you-
your head is the horizon to
my hand. I believe
forever in the hooks.
The way things work
is that eventually
something catches.

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