An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Summer 2006

Incarnation: 9:30 am to 9:36 am

Jorie Graham
View PDF

Jorie Graham, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1999, is Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She has published numerous collections of poetry, including “Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts” (1980), “The End of Beauty” (1987), “The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974–1994” (1995), which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, “Never” (2002), and, most recently, “Overlord” (2005). She has also edited two anthologies, “Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language” (1996) and “The Best American Poetry 1990.” Graham served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.

Incarnation: 9:30 am to 9:36 am

     She sits on the straightback chair in the room.
A ray of sun is calling across the slatwood floor.
     I say she because my body is so still
in the folds of daylight
     through which the one beam slants.
I say calling because it lays itself down
     with a twang and a licking monosyllable

across the pine floor-boards–
     making a meaning like a wide sharp thought–
an unrobed thing we can see the inside of–
     less place than time–

less time than the shedding skin of time, the thought
                    of time,

the yellow swath it cuts
     on the continuum–
now to the continuum
     what she is to me,
a ceremonial form, an intransigent puissant corridor
                    nothing will intersect,

and yet nothing really
     –dust, a little heat . . .
She waits.
     Her leg extended, she waits for it–
foot, instep, calf–
     the I, the beam
of sun–
     the now and now

it moving like a destiny across,
     neither lured-on nor pushed-forward,
without architecture,
     over the book lying in the dust,

over the cracked plank–down into the crack–across–

not animal
     nothing that can be deduced-from or built-upon,
aswarm with dust and yet
     not entered by the dust,

not touched
     smearing everything with a small warm gaiety–

over the pillow-seam over the water glass–

cracking and bending but not cracking or bending–

over the instep now, holding the foot–

     her waiting to feel the warmth then beginning
to feel it–
     the motion of it and the warmth of it not identical–
the one-way-motion of it, the slow sweep,
     approaching her as a fate approaches, inhuman but

without deviation,
     turning each instant a notch deeper towards
the only forwards,
     but without beginning,
and never–not ever–
     not moving
forwards . . .

Meanwhile the knowledge of things lies round,
     over which the beam–
Meanwhile the transparent air
     through or into which the beam–
over the virtual and the material–
     over the world and over the world of the beholder–

     it does not change, crawler, but things are
     the mantle, the cotton-denim bunched at
                    the knees–

diamonds appearing on the tips of things then disappearing–
     each edge voluble with the plushnesses of silence–

     now up to her folded arms–warm under the elbow–
almost a sad smell in the honeyed yellow–
     (the ridge of the collarbone) (the tuck of the neck)
till suddenly (as if by

     she is inside–(ear, cheek)–the slice of time

now on the chin, now on
     the lips, making her rise up into me,
forcing me to close my eyes,
     the whole of the rest feeling broken off,

it all being my face, my being inside the beam of sun,

     and the sensation of how it falls unevenly,

     how the wholeness I felt in the shadow is lifted,
broken, this tip lit, this other dark–and stratified,
     analysed, chosen-round, formed–