The Unwritten Volume

In memory of L.W.

From “The Unwritten Volume,” 2014 in Prairie Schooner; rpt. Best American Poetry, ed. Edward Hirsch, 2016.

[The] narrative is genealogical but it does not simply amount to an act of memory.

It witnesses, in the manner of an ethical or political act, for today and for tomorrow.

Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death

Elle’s writing her book of wisdom.

She writes until she cannot hold her pen.

The labyrinth miraculously is uncovered.


An American woman’s progressing on her knees.

She read something but not Elle’s book.

No one will read Elle’s book.


I walk the circular path, first the left side,

then the right, casting petals to the north,

east, south, and west (this intuitively).


A diminutive prelate shoos me away.

When he leaves, I return to the center.

The organist, practicing, strikes up Phantom.


Elle says she cannot hear him.

Elle! I cry, I cannot see you.

I had prayed Death spare you.


Remember our meal among the termites

of Arcadia Street, that cottage of spirits

with its riddled beams and long veranda


bordered by plantain trees, and the spiral

you traced for me on scrap-paper?

I kept it for such a long time.


The organist, of course, is playing Bach.

A boy scattered the rose petals I cast

all over. Elle’s voice surrounds me. 


To quiet hills I lift mine eyes.