Poem of the Week | February 19, 2013

This week we’ve recovered a golden oldie by the esteemed Jorie Graham. Graham is the award-winning author of numerous collections of poetry spanning back to the early eighties (this is from TMR 6:1, Fall ’82). “Salmon” appeared in her second collection, Erosion. Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard and winner of Pulitzer Prize among others, she is one of the most influential American poets.



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,
not even hungry, not even endangered, driving deeper and deeper
into less. They lept up falls, ladders,
and rock, tearing and leaping, a gold river
and a blue river travelling
in opposite directions.
They would not stop, resolution of will
and helplessness, as the eye
is helpless
when the image forms itself, upside-down, backwards,
driving up into
the mind, and the world
unfastens itself
from the deep ocean of the given . . . Justice, aspen
leaves, mother attempting
suicide, the white night-flying moth
the ants dismantled bit by bit and carried in
right through the crack
in my wall . . . How helpless
the still pool is,
awaiting the gold blade
of their hurry. Once, indoors, a child,
I watched, at noon, through slatted wooden blinds,
a man and a woman, naked, eyes closed,
climb onto each other,
on the terrace floor,
and ride—two gold currents
wrapping round and round each other, fastening,
unfastening. I hardly knew
what I saw. Whatever shadow there was in that world
it was the one each cast
onto the other,
the thin black seam
they seemed to be trying to work away
between them. I held my breath.
As far as I could tell, the work they did
with sweat and light
was good. I’d say
they travelled far in opposite
directions. What is the light
at the end of the day, deep, reddish-gold, bathing the walls,
the corridors, light that is no longer light, no longer clarifies,
illuminates, antique, freed from the body of
the air that carries it. What is it
for the space of time
where it is useless, merely
beautiful? When they were done, they made a distance
one from the other
and slept, outstretched,
on the warm tile
of the terrace floor,
smiling, faces pressed against the stone.