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Category: Elizabeth Arnold

After Philip Johnson’s Glass House

It could be air, a seemingly postless porch on a ridge edge in Connecticut.

Grounded by the too-wide dark brick cylinder within it?

Low clump of cabinets to the left

standing alone, no walls to be attached to. So

freestanding but not free.

Huddled.

As if round-backed, they’re bent against the sky.

With everything exposed, they might find safety only

in that, and in their reddish, homey-colored wood.

But the corners are sharp, right-angled.

There’s no hammer beam or sally in the house.

No gusset needed, balk. If there are sleepers, they’re sunk.

Only the cylinder is curved, only that

having anything to do with what might bend toward imperfection.

Anatolian cuneiforms etched into it? —a cylinder seal to be rolled onto

lake-sized sheets of wax intaglio, a communication thus

entering the mind? But the ancient seals are a little bit

bowed, this isn’t, smokestack shadow cast across the scene—

to scare off anyone who might approach

(as if they’d see it!) a room-sized house hanging in thin air,

banks of lush or leafless wild shrubs all around and down

the great ridge (for Connecticut)

may as well be in it. Trees erase it.

from EffacementFind more by Elizabeth Arnold at the library

Copyright © Elizabeth Arnold
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

Two Rivers

after Lawrence Langer

When the woman facing the video camera speaks

decades after having been freed

from whichever death camp she’d been dumped in

about how life is for her now,

it’s clear she was never freed, not really,

two rivers running through her,

one roaring, drowning out the other

which nevertheless keeps going

barely preserving

societal norms, those

kindnesses, considerations,

thinking of others, the future of the state.

But the louder river’s stronger. It erodes its bed,

pulls like a muscled eel against the line

because she couldn’t turn her back on what she’d had to do to

not die, the slightest seam left in the water

for so short a time!—like a breath.

Me? I’d have sunk

so readily into the murk

as into one who’d have killed me for a dime. And I did

sink, gave

everything for nothing.

Why can’t I say

what it hurts to know about the self?

—while she can’t not

say it, staring straight into the eye of the lens:

“Love leaves me cold.”

from Skeleton CoastFind more by Elizabeth Arnold at the library

Copyright © Elizabeth Arnold
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

Rare Earth

The biophysicists who think there’s little chance

that life (advanced, that is) exists

anywhere other than on Earth

say what I felt last night before I read their book,

in which they state

we’re right against it, the abyss

—a word whose tone had killed it for me

until this.

from CivilizationFind more by Elizabeth Arnold at the library

Copyright © 2006 Elizabeth Arnold
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

The Sun

In the paper today

two close-ups of the sun shot

ten years apart,

the older one

complete with the familiar spots,

the other, current,

almost entirely clear orange,

cartoon-character-face orange.

It’s thought

any face projected on a screen

is dead.

“What can I do?”

she said about some

chronic social wrong I’d brought up.

Nothing, said the sun.

from LifeFind more by Elizabeth Arnold at the library

Copyright © Elizabeth Arnold
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

Sound’s What Counts

in beautiful green Kerala

where the people sing like birds

—they make those

sounds I mean—

and the mantras there

like birdsong, no sense,

passed down generation to generation

as they’re

taught to the monks

with an impossible exactitude,

translation being in this case

transliteration

so as to get into the air

here and in other places all over India

and the world

words of the god, the actual

sounds it is believed

a living entity let out and in an

instant made the world.

from LifeFind more by Elizabeth Arnold at the library

Copyright © Elizabeth Arnold
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

Civilization

The British journalist’s voice was spent as she said

(unenthusiastically, the interview now over), “Thanks,”

with the eager young insatiable American official

turning, then, to other matters.

But the voice

—a European’s, flat, well schooled in the world’s

hope-pulverizing particle storm’s gifts of disappointment—stayed,

the syllable’s slight elongation something on the order of

the querulous sendings of frail human wonderings out

into the void, as if the waning of her voice spoke

all of history’s ups and downs, a honeycomb’s packed maze of cells

whose lights shine through their tiny paper membranes

too thin not to be available to being torn,

light leaking from a world cracked open,

sky seen through the pavement I walk down.

from CivilizationFind more by Elizabeth Arnold at the library

Copyright © 2006 Elizabeth Arnold
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

Encroachment

The male is the aggressor

even in a birdbath full of sparrows,

mounting, determining what, when, going after

all that shouldn’t be his

more than another’s.

The only way for a woman to be

truly free

is to live alone, liberation

just too high a hurtle

with the man there, history being

a pile of tree trunks on our donkey backs.

from Skeleton CoastFind more by Elizabeth Arnold at the library

Copyright © Elizabeth Arnold
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

IRAQI BOY

What appear to be

peach-white, overwashed pajamas

in the washed-out newspaper photo

on one side droop

like a monk’s hood,

the upper half of that leg

raised with the other whole one

and the hands

they’re there!

and the less washed-out

pink balloon above them that they reach for or have

just let go

—the latter probably as one hand, palm up,

is wide of it,

two-thirds of a laughing mouth

visible, the wheelchair in this case,

its sparkle stark against

the flannel and plied living limbs within it,

a tool of fun. Such wisdom’s possible here only,

the ability to feel

glad to be alive

gone on the outside,

the “cloistered incarceration” of the ward

holding the boys

as if they were a group of monks.

Asked by a visitor

what it’s like to live secluded

most of the time,

mute and with forced labor,

a chronic lack of sleep for all the praying,

the Benedictine monk

asked back:

“Have you ever been in love?”

from EffacementFind more by Elizabeth Arnold at the library

Copyright © 2010 Elizabeth Arnold
Used with the permission of Flood Editions.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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