Prac Crit

The New Intelligence

by Timothy Donnelly

Interview

by Dai George

In our quick-fire, clickbait age, Timothy Donnelly’s poems are arrestingly maximal. Big and sinuous, often stretching far beyond the single page, they stage dramatic philosophical arguments about selfhood, perception, moral values, and the economic metaphors that have come to dominate human life. If that all sounds too serious and monumental, we might remember that he is also a poet quite comfortable with sitting immobile in the bath for hours on end and declaring, ‘World – / I was totally into it’ (‘Chapter for Being Transformed into a Sparrow’). Against the abstractions and syntactical estrangements, a vernacular energy courses through Donnelly’s work.

This struggle between heft and levity represents a pleasurable tension in the poetry; in the man, it is just a pleasure. He hurtles into recondite corners of literary history, extemporising grand theories, then pulls back before it all gets too overheated, just in time to laugh at himself. As anyone who has encountered Donnelly in his day job will know, his love for poetry translates into a fizzing, almost physical enthusiasm to communicate. When we first met, he was a professor on Columbia University’s writing programme and I was a student. I recall with gratitude spending long hours in his office after class, chewing the fat about the crucial differences between Jonson and Shakespeare or British and American poetry.

Our meeting for this interview took place in the middle of a benighted British February, when a tube strike had laid London low, rendering everything impossibly slow and fractious. Timothy was passing through to read at a Poetry London launch at the Southbank Centre, and I was able to catch up with him the following afternoon. He was jetlagged and a bit bewildered by the drizzly Doomsday scenario playing out around us, but in unflappable good humour. Much had changed in the four years since I left New York – Timothy had a flourishing woodsman’s beard, for a start – but, in the spark and generosity of his responses, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those office hours in Columbia’s Dodge Hall.

We spoke about ‘The New Intelligence’, the first poem in Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation (Wave, 2010), a collection that has established him as one of the key contemporary poets, and one with a rare and genuinely transatlantic reach. The interview came at an interesting juncture for Donnelly, who is slowly beginning to roll out new work in major magazines such as The New Yorker (‘Malamute’) and Poetry (‘Hymn to Life’). His first collection is Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit (Grove, 2003).

DG

I know a bit about ‘The New Intelligence’, having heard you read and introduce it in various places, but because it’s not there explicitly, could you tell us a bit about the story behind the poem?

TD

It’s the first of the poems that I wrote towards The Cloud Corporation, and I wrote it, I believe, around February 2003, just after my first book, Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit, was published. I had been experiencing, for some time prior to the composition of the poem, serious bouts of vertigo, and also I’d lost about 65% of the hearing in my left ear. At one point I had a really serious spell in Penn Station. It caused me to fall to the ground – or to position myself on the ground in order not to feel this tremendous dizziness – and I knew that I had to have it taken care of, that there was something going on.

I went to an ear, nose and throat specialist in Brooklyn, explained my symptoms, and they provisionally diagnosed me with a condition known as Ménière’s Syndrome – I believe it’s an imbalance of fluids in the inner ear. They told me that they couldn’t test for it. It’s one of those things where it can only be negatively diagnosed: they have to rule out other things and then they can diagnose it. In any case, I had this battery of examinations one day – there were something like 13 tests; electrodes were connected to my temples and they followed my brainwaves when exposing me to certain lights I had to track. I had headphones on at one point, and I was supposed to repeat or respond to what it was that I was hearing. It was convoluted, anyway, and seemed like it took hours.

Ultimately, when I went back to hear the results of the test, they told me that certain of the things they’d found out were consistent with the diagnosis of Ménière’s Syndrome, but they also said, ‘It turns out you’ve tested abnormally in all of the tests we gave you.’ So what should have been happening in my brain when it was exposed to these different stimuli wasn’t, in fact, happening. They were a bit concerned about this, and a lesion on my brain stem was one of the possibilities they suggested, or some sort of tumescence at play, so I had to go and get an MRI, a CAT scan, and they ultimately concluded that there was no lesion or tumour. But when I asked how we could account for the rabid irregularity in my brain function, they said that I appeared to have ‘an idiosyncratic way of processing sense data’, which, y’know, is a quote. I remember the words very vividly.

In fact, it turns out that there’s a condition called Sensory Processing Disorder, which I think some people mistakenly assume to be on the spectrum of Asperger’s and autism. It’s not, though it has some similar symptoms, such as an inability to become accustomed to certain stimuli that most people, over a period of time, will become accustomed to – whether it’s a humming, or a white noise, or the murmur of a crowd: anything where, after a certain amount of time, people don’t sense it anymore. People who have Sensory Processing Disorder are too constantly aware of things that you’re supposed to become inured to. It usually leads to a shyness, a withdrawal, or a removal from social situations that create this hypersensitivity, because it can be kind of agonising to be aware of… too much. I probably had that, and my nephew was tentatively diagnosed with it; it may be something that’s hereditary. And I think it’s something that I’ve rewired in my brain – that I’ve corrected.

But it was frightening for a while, to think that the lesion or the tumour might actually be happening – that it might be the cause of all this. For a couple of weeks I had to deal with the fact that there might be something very seriously wrong with me. I was filled with mortal thoughts, and a certain level of pleasure or play just seemed to be inaccessible to me for a while. So I wrote the poem, in part… well, when I say, ‘After knowledge extinguished the last of the beautiful / fires our worship had failed to prolong,’ this was my own way of saying: ‘After some sort of awareness of the finitude of things became really pronounced in my mind’ – or in my wife’s too, because the addressee of the poem is my wife, Lynn Melnick (or some version of her; you know how it is when you write a poem). ‘After death and finitude became so at home in us, everything seemed to be drabber and devoid of a certain sort of pleasure or promise that’s necessary for an enjoyment of existence.’

And that’s where the poem started – from the idea that something like that can happen. That a new, terrible awareness can interrupt one’s life and make everything drabber, greyer.

DG

Can I ask how these words ‘finitude’ and ‘mortality’ were replaced with the more abstract word ‘knowledge’ at the top of the poem?

TD

At the same time all this was happening, I was taking these courses at Princeton, including one particular study a friend and I took with Craig Dworkin. We were both interested mainly in contemporary poetry, and one semester they weren’t offering anything on that, so we did this independent study with Craig instead. We started with Pound, and moved all the way up to people like John Cage, and even spent some time thinking about Jenny Holzer – you know, the artist? Well, when we spent time with the Objectivists, I had some trouble with what you might call the basic idea of Objectivism: that there’s an art that could ever be devoid of a certain subjectivity. I’m not sure it’s right to approach Objectivism with such a crude understanding of what Objectivism might mean, but I did find it sort of disturbing that we could ever entertain the possibility that there might be something produced by a human that would be unqualified by that human’s particularity; that wouldn’t represent the perspectival nature of individuality; or that there might be an art that didn’t reflect the necessary particularity of its origins.

So I was troubled a little bit by the idea of objectivity, which comes up at the end of the poem. With that word ‘knowledge’, I think I was drawn to a rather simplistic binary between reason and intuition. I don’t think of reason as being the enemy of poetry, though in our analyses of poetry we can sometimes let reason become – what’s the word…?

DG

Domineering?

TD

Yeah! But I want the word – what is it? Hypertrophied, y’know what I mean? So I was interested in finding a way to let my own trust in intuition, in the imagination, in something that at times might appear to be at odds with facticity and knowledge and reason – I wanted to find a way for that to assert dominance.

DG

Which brings me to my next question, about the relationship the poem has with ‘Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour’ by Stevens. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit. It seems to me that you are pushing back on Stevens, as well as paying homage – because you show that, at times of real human need, this ‘intensest rendezvous’ referred to in ‘Final Soliloquy’ becomes impossible.

TD

That poem of his is one that I know well, and love, and have internalised, perhaps so greatly that I never saw the two poems as being in conversation. In composing ‘The New Intelligence’, I didn’t have that Stevens poem at the front of my mind, but now that you ask that question, I absolutely do see it.

DG

I thought I remembered you connecting the two poems in a lecture I heard you give at Columbia.

TD

Did I?

DG

Yeah – you were talking mainly about Stevens, but read out ‘The New Intelligence’ at the end.

TD

Well, I always think about Stevens. He’s what brought me to poetry, ultimately. Well, not ultimately – no, yes, ultimately! He wasn’t the first poet I loved, but he was the first poet I loved to a degree that I couldn’t even understand. Of course, we were forced to read ‘Sunday Morning’ in high school and whatnot, but then I read this little poem that few people remember, called ‘Jasmine’s Beautiful Thoughts underneath the Willow’, the first stanza of which says, ‘My titillations have no foot-notes / And their memorials are the phrases / Of idiosyncratic music.’ When I first read that… [Breaks into giggles.]

DG

‘Titillations’ is an underused word in poems.

TD

I know! I mean, ‘My titillations have no foot-notes’? Right from the beginning. Even before I spent time trying to grapple with what the poem might be – what it might mean – I was struck just by the sound of it. The combinations of the words seemed so exhilarating and exuberant – and then, of course, the ideas, too: that there’s no precursor to the little pleasures. They feel like they’re just happening without historical reference. ‘The way I feel now, and the pleasures I am taking, have no foreshadowing or antecedents. They are their own thing and cannot be foot-noted to.’ The footnotes automatically suggest a kind of scholarly and dry character – again, the hypertrophy of reason – and they just don’t belong in the environment of that poem.

So yeah, I know I must have talked about the ‘Final Soliloquy’. But I know it wasn’t a part of the composition of ‘The New Intelligence’, though I do see a relationship there. It’s interesting because a lot of people, when they point to that poem by Stevens, they see it as one of his most intimate poems – and there is a great intimacy there – but it’s an interior paramour, an interiorised lover, or muse, or some sort of love object that has in some way installed itself within the mind or the sensibility of the poet, and it’s not like it could be provoked by an actual person. A lot of people think that it’s a love poem, which in some ways it is, and I guess, if we have some kind of loving relationship to our own capacity to create, then it could very well be that we become more loving and decent in the way that we interact with the world around us. But what’s different between ‘The New Intelligence’ and ‘Final Soliloquy’ is that in my poem there is an actual person that the poem means to gesture to, or throw itself toward. [Laughs.] ‘Throw itself toward’! But that’s how I feel.

DG

Yes, it’s not a hasty remark. Could you delve a bit into the phrase, ‘the mind that fear and disenchantment fatten’? Because I find that very Stevensian.

TD

Yeah, it totally sounds Stevensian, when I hear it said. The fear in this case could be connected back to my own fear of dying and the disenchantment becomes the state that I believe you exist in after developing an awareness of your own mortality. But what I moved into after that was this idea of wanting to re-beautify what has ceased to be beautiful. At one point in the poem it segues into a notion of trying to impose one’s own design onto the surrounding world, as a way of living in it – living in it happily or comfortably. If you feel that the world itself has had the liveliness and pleasure drained from it, you may over time come to impose your own imaginative powers onto it in order to make it habitable.

Also, we did have a party once, and I turned around from pouring a glass of wine to find that someone had readjusted the cheeses. And I understand that. I’m the kind of person who’s, like, the fall of that curtain’s bothering me a little bit.

DG

A little bit obsessive?

TD

A little bit. I want things to be right, you know? I tend not to be too tidy – I’m actually quite sloppy in the way I keep my environment – but I know about organisation, and I like things being the way they ought to be, in their best condition. I think I’ve always been that way. Sometimes it turns out that it’s much easier to go to a party and make the crucial adjustments to the cheese platter than it is to actually keep one’s own domestic space in perfect order. I’ve been known to adjust the cheese platter myself, so I remember being struck by that. There is a certain dissatisfaction, a certain restlessness that’s inherent in a person who feels compelled to organise the world around him in order to feel more in love with it.

I worry about that impulse in myself, but I know that it’s also… I mean, it suggests that there’s a lot of fussing to be done and it reminds me of The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Didn’t he have a tumour or something?

DG

I’ve never read it…

TD

Oh it’s terrific. Very moralistic, as Tolstoy – well, if he wasn’t always, then as Tolstoy became. He was adjusting a curtain and he fell and struck his side – it ended up, from the trauma, growing into a tumour. No, wait – it’s unclear. In fact, it’s very mysterious and possibly all in his head. It was just from this sad need to make his beautiful bourgeois drawing room perfect. It was petty, and I worry about my own petty need to perfect things. But I know at the same time that a big source of where my writing comes from is a need to make some sort of adjustment – to the way we look at things, to the way things are – and to add to reality in my own attenuated way, in order to correct it a little bit, or in order to assert something of my own will.

DG

So that word ‘will’, it comes up twice in the poem. What is the word ‘will’ doing here? You’ve touched on it a little bit, but there seems to be – by necessity – a sort of totalitarian shade to the two phrases where it crops up: first ‘a disease of the will’ and then ‘our inextinguishable will’. Obviously it’s nothing of the sort in your case, but what does ‘will’ mean outside of those systems?

TD

Well, I do think of will as something… well, I don’t want to say ‘compulsion’, but it is the impulse at least to impose one’s own designs onto the external sphere.

DG

Does that entail selfishness?

TD

I think it’s inevitable, selfishness. [Thinks.] Yep, it does. I mean, you can believe that you’re doing it for the right. You can believe that you’re doing it for the benefit of others as well. But there is a certain kind of egotism inherent in the will, and I think there is even in the humblest of poets and poems: the audacity to create. You’ve made something that you think deserves to exist, in addition to everything that already naturally exists.

Wilfulness is something that all people have to some degree – so if you’re not aware of it, and scrutinising it, and thinking about it somewhat critically, then that’s when it runs the risk of going haywire. You can maybe set up some speed bumps in regard to your own being in the world – necessary, important ones – if you’re just honest with yourself about how there is a certain ego at play, always.

The poem sort of flakes away from the original drama that provoked it, but it would be wrong to think of it as necessarily referring back to the diagnosis. Because it’s more about the state of mind that was produced by it – a certain form of dejection, a certain state in which one feels that the world is unbeautiful, and feels in response a compulsion to re-beautify it, through one’s own labours and through the imposition of one’s own designs: an impulse that is identified at the end of the poem as a wholesome thing.

DG

A perfumed thing.

TD

A perfumed thing. Which is the product of a certain kind of romantic relationship: that you can share this desire with another person. There’s something, I think, radiant and warm and strong about that. But at the same time I think, from a different angle, this ‘will’ is something that, if left unchecked – or if deployed wantonly – can be diseasey.

DG

Let’s talk a bit more about some of the technical aspects of the poem. How are pronouns working here? They start off very general and grand – ‘we’, ‘our’ – and then there’s a significant and notable about-face when you say, ‘I love that about you,’ and it becomes addressed to the version of your wife. Was it a decision to defer that moment?

TD

I don’t know if I knew that that was going to happen. I’m very glad that it did. I think I was as surprised by it as the poem, which at that point seems to startle itself into a gearshift. I just think that’s kind of where the winds took me. And the ‘we’ comes back, doesn’t it?

DG

But then it feels like it’s actually about a ‘me and thee’ rather than generally ‘us’.

TD

Oh yeah! I don’t know how to account for that – it just erupted that way. Even though it happens through feeling whenever we write poems, the part of me that’s a schemer, an artisan, knew at that point that a shift needed to happen. Something needed to keep the meditation alive, and make it seem relevant and urgent. And after that hyper-artificial passage to do with the ‘last leaf-parchments’, I think I knew: get intimate. Get personal, because it’s sort of gone, or ravelled off.

DG

And it’s one of the ways that the poem is really, explicitly pushing back against Stevens. Because Stevens would never admit to such a tangible human in a poem like this.

TD

Yeah, well, I can think of an exception, but maybe only one. In the late poem ‘Reality Is an Activity of the Most August Imagination’ he mentions driving home from Cornwall to Hartford, and he wrote ‘we drove’, and you know it must be his wife that he’s with. And it’s almost scary; it’s like, oh my God, he was an actual person?

DG

Like seeing your headteacher off-duty…

TD

… down the beach or something! Anyway, I revere Stevens, so I didn’t think of it as one-upping him or anything like that, because that’s too audacious. But the poem definitely has to do with him because it has to do with the role of the imagination in one’s daily life, and because there are lights and fires in that poem [‘Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour’], and because in my poem I’m talking about finding someone with whom you can be in a relationship and with whom the imaginative act of creating the world in which you live is one that can be done, as a shared experience, and as a source of intimacy and pleasure.

DG

Can we talk about syntax? My own pet theory about The Cloud Corporation is that its main formal device is the complex sentence: the way it cuts across stanzas and sets you up for things which don’t happen as you’d expect. How do sentences of different types work for you, in this poem? There are ornate complex sentences, fragments, and simple sentences such as ‘I love that about you.’

TD

It’s something that people bring up frequently about the book. I gave a reading at Brooklyn College not that long ago. A poet I admire greatly, and a person I adore – Marjorie Wellish – asked me a question afterwards about sentence structure, and I gave an answer that I could tell wasn’t adequate to her. The truth is – and can I be perfectly honest?

DG

Of course, be honest. Is it just a textural thing?

TD

I wouldn’t put it that way. On some very basic level, I take pleasure in reading sentences of a certain intricacy and complexity. I don’t take this pleasure merely in writing such sentences, but in reading them – Henry James, for example, or Faulkner. I’ve always been drawn to those kinds of sentences. Let’s just say there’s a love I have for them that precedes and can withstand any intellectualisation. If sentences had correlates in paintings, the paintings I’m drawn to would be… well, I like Cy Twombly’s work; I like intricate patterns. And I like a certain dynamism that I associate with long, convoluted sentences. I get a giddiness from them; I find them exhilarating – whatever.

On another level, if I start to analyse it a little, I think I get excited when I see the twists and turns and surprises, and the inclusiveness, and the dependent clauses, and the swirls and swivels that can happen in a longer sentence – all of that variousness, united in one grammatical unit. It’s a combination of order and chaos, or like an act of wandering that ultimately has some structure to it. When my undergraduate class first met for a workshop this semester, just to get their imaginations lubricated I had them try to express something simple in the most convoluted way they could devise. Something simple, like, ‘The sun was shining in the sky.’ I wanted people to wrench their phrasing as far as possible from the most journalistic, or expedient, or simplistic way of stating something – just for the experience of that giddy distance between the phrasing and the referent.

I find that really exciting – when a certain phrase might baffle the mind, and then you realise that there was something quite hard and fast that it wanted to express. You get this a lot in Crane’s work, for example. I find that pretty delightful – that in poetry you can wander far from the most efficient way of saying something. I don’t like efficiency in art, and I don’t necessarily like it all that much in life either. I think we should allow for things to be multidimensional. Something about efficiency suggests that things get whittled down to their simplest and crudest terms.

DG

It can make a travesty of the world, when you try to represent it most plainly.

TD

Exactly. In any case, I find that there’s some consonance between that particular pleasure – of saying things in a more complex way than necessary – and the pleasure of a sentence that might dizzy, but in fact is quite in control of itself. I think you can do that more satisfactorily, more impressively, in poetry than you can in prose, because you’ve got the line breaks doing things for you too. I love reading Paradise Lost and The Prelude: these are books of extraordinary sentences that drape themselves over the blank verse.

DG

And make enjambment a part of sentence structure.

TD

Yes, and I love doing that. There’s a way in which longer sentences allow a type of exploration – with wandering and dependencies – that a shorter sentence won’t permit. You can have a series of short sentences that reflect, contradict or complicate, but a longer sentence is better able to suggest the fluctuations and unexpected directions that one’s own thinking might take. An openness to the unforeseen.

DG

I’ll finish with a few more prosaic questions about composition. Well, first not so prosaic: was ‘The New Intelligence’ written largely in the state of vagueness and disillusionment that the start of the poem describes? Or did the composition happen afterwards?

TD

Yes: the composition happened afterwards. Emotion recollected in tranquillity, I’m afraid to say.

DG

Is that how it usually is for you? Or do you ever write in the throes of something?

TD

I recreate the throes as I’m writing. You know how it is: when you recollect those emotions in tranquillity, you actually rehabilitate them. You bring them back. I’d had the news; I knew I wasn’t going to be dying; but the whole experience came to represent the great disappointment that we all have to come to terms with, which may on some level be our own mortality, or the death of God or something.

DG

I don’t know why, but I thought that the final stanza (which begins, ‘I won’t be dying after all’) would have been added in a later version of the poem, written after the relieving news that you’d be OK. Maybe you just create that impression with the words ‘after all’…

TD

Maybe, and you’ve got to do what’s right for the poem. I needed that kind of candour and sharpness, but I knew I wasn’t going to be dying. Even when they said, you know, ‘It’s serious,’ I think on some basic level I believed it was going to be OK. But still I was put in a state where I was entertaining that there might be something gravely wrong with me.

I knew that the poem needed something that explicitly touched upon mortality. But I also thought, at the end, that it would be sort of lovely to say, ‘Oh, I won’t be dying after all.’

DG

After it’s become more particular with your wife, the addressee…

TD

Yes, and I have that line where I say I’ll go on living dizzily, ‘half-deaf to reality’. Which is funny, because I still had the hearing loss – I was still half-deaf in my left ear – but I also thought, this is my way of being a little bit removed from the plain sense of things, the world as it actually is.

DG

Your version of Milton’s blindness?

TD

A lame version – but exactly!

DG

Did it go through many or any drafts?

TD

No. The word ‘morbid’ used to be ‘ugly’, but that’s the only thing that changed. It took a while, though. I tend to write from beginning to end, and when I look back I won’t make any significant changes – a couple of word choices perhaps. In part because rhythm does so much.

DG

And when you’re in the middle of a complex sentence, it’s hard to go back and change the guts of it…

TD

You’ve got to trust yourself: I feel it in my arms and chest when something is really as I want it to be. Maybe I could go back and make it better, and maybe if someone were to look at it they could suggest edits that – if I weren’t too egotistical – I could see the value of. But I’m not really interested in writing the poem that’s going to be most satisfactory to the greatest number of people. I would not be that kind of writer happily – I just think it’s crazy. I want to write poems that have a direct relationship, almost, to my own physicality. You get to the point in your evolution as a writer where it starts to come out that way.

In my conversations with Matthew Zapruder, the editor at Wave, he didn’t make a single line edit to The Cloud Corporation. He just said there were two poems that were disrupting the development of the book. I resisted that at first, but then I realised he was right, took them out, and added three more.

DG

How does ‘The New Intelligence’ relate to what you’re writing now? In terms of length, subject matter, mood…

TD

Well, I haven’t written a poem in about two and half months after working on a very long piece called ‘Hymn to Life’. There’s a James Schuyler poem called ‘Hymn to Life’, but the poem I have in mind is a Lou Andreas-Salomé’s, which was turned into a cantata or something by Nietzsche, who composed a little for the piano. So that was pretty consuming, and it doesn’t have much at all to do with ‘The New Intelligence’. I guess this is another Stevensian thing, but I frequently find myself in a poem wanting to assert the importance of the imagination, and the liberty one feels by dint of one’s imaginative powers. Also, the idea that one’s own imaginative business is always going to play a shaping role in one’s understanding of reality. That’s always part of it. Wait, now I remember: I did discuss the relationship between ‘The New Intelligence’ and ‘The Final Soliloquy’ once when I visited Alice Quinn’s class at Columbia, you’re right! It must have been on my mind all along. I wonder why I suppressed it? Don’t answer that.

Here’s something: the intimacy that’s approached, the explicit address at the heart of ‘The New Intelligence’, is something that I’m becoming a little more comfortable with. I don’t say ‘comfortable’ because I’m timid about those things or because I’m too private to make autobiographical references; I mean it because something tonal happens when you shout out to a real person, and that’s not always a tone that I’ve wanted. I’ve sometimes thought that when you get too autobiographical, something of the way you relate to the material changes. I don’t know if this is fair to say, but it becomes much less about the textures and the musicality, and it rings a little differently to me when I refer to things actually in my life, and the people in it, like my daughters. But maybe that’s changing.

The New Intelligence

by Timothy Donnelly

After knowledge extinguished the last of the beautiful
fires our worship had failed to prolong, we walked
back home through pedestrian daylight, to a residence

humbler than the one left behind. A door without mystery,
a room without theme. For the hour that we spend
complacent at the window overlooking the garden,

we observe an arrangement in rust and gray-green,
a vagueness at the center whose slow, persistent
movements some sentence might explain if we had time

or strength for sentences. To admit that what falls
falls solitarily, lost in the permanent dusk of the particular.
That the mind that fear and disenchantment fatten

comes to boss the world around it, morbid as the damp-
fingered guest who rearranges the cheeses the minute the host
turns to fix her a cocktail. A disease of the will, the way

false birch branches arch and interlace from which
hands dangle last leaf-parchments and a very large array
of primitive bird-shapes. Their pasted feathers shake

in the aftermath of the nothing we will ever be content
to leave the way we found it. I love that about you.
I love that when I call you on the long drab days practicality

keeps one of us away from the other that I am calling
a person so beautiful to me that she has seen my awkwardness
on the actual sidewalk but she still answers anyway.

I say that when I fell you fell beside me and the concrete
refused to apologize. That a sparrow sat for a spell
on the windowsill today to communicate the new intelligence.

That the goal of objectivity depends upon one’s faith
in the accuracy of one’s perceptions, which is to say
a confidence in the purity of the perceiving instrument.

I won’t be dying after all, not now, but will go on living dizzily
hereafter in reality, half-deaf to reality, in the room
perfumed by the fire that our inextinguishable will begins.

From The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books, 2010). Reproduced with permission of the author.