Three Poems
Maxine Chernoff


There is a world in which the old tumult breathes its conclusions. Inside, we are purple notes and wings of doves, visibility nothing can equal, which holds us, hesitating, as if movement might break the tender chord we strike as antidote to time. Unmask me, double me, make me a tangent in your circle of radiant breath—here with you, where the said is an offering. We are reworked, the moment a measuring device and a grace note, sorrow’s window closed to the view.


“A secret dream of emulating the cartographer or the diamond cutter animates the historical enterprise.” —Paul Ricoeur

You’re here on a couch, pillows fluffed, dreaming in Latin. You’re in a tablet carved on a mountain and given to men whose ears filled with ontology. You’re near a stream whose source is the next cogency for a traveler stunned as Hölderlin trying to remember his name. You’re in the dream in which his hands are yours and conclusions marked by sighs and breathing. You are nowhere, a signal or code meant to sweep you under a wave or a cloud or a whispered veil of induction. The French Revolution began without you and ended the same. You are not needed in this chapter in which the king’s clothes are described as raiment or ermine cloak. If you are required by time and its minions, you will receive notice, as spiders when the dew shakes a web and the world blinks to attention.


Lost on a night when reference
suffices for human events,
the slow distance between bodies
reaches for narratives of innocence
or crushes as fallen feathers.
On a plank of sleep he sees the empty
tree, flown birds’ narrow hotel
of blue and leaf and fragrant wood,
light, an envelope in her marble hand.
If reaching means proximity, life thinks
otherwise, leaves books open to weather,
pummels history with slow report. Explanations
slip as diamonds in a mossy sea, or time,
a science of feeling. Eclipse imminent,
papered walls suffer with impunity
the loss of probable light. We are not alone
with our discipline, the smooth stones we carve
from childhood to convergence to dawn.

These poems will be published in Maxine Chernoff's next collection, forthcoming from Counterpath Press. She is a 2013 NEA fellow in poetry and a visiting international scholar at Exeter University in England (January 2013). In 2009 she won the PEN Translation Award for her translation (with Paul Hoover) of the Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin.