("the unwritten volume")
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 has scattered the petals I threw.
Elle's voice surrounds me.
To quiet hills I lift mine eyes.
To confer a form on space
To consider the function
To cast space like a sculpture
or fix clothe pins on shaves of wood
so they curve around,
usefully shaping the space for sound
(from strings or a pipe through which wind)
To soar into a tower the exact height
of the nave's length, the one pointing
to sun or moon (depending),
the other toward the altar,
and beyond, the horizon
visible from the spire,
and the spire seen from anywhere:
the unstable hierarchy of proportions
the geometry of which has not sufficiently
Once upon a pallid lake
over supper on a breezy patio,
I mused to Elle, "The roundness
of the labyrinth's form
comes from the cunt,
the rosy opening of the vagina,
connoting birth." Skeptic Elle:
Where did you read that?
I stammered, vague, "Goddess studies"
(which I hadn't studied),
or some such stuff I had.
Quiet, vehement voice:
I don't believe you.
The wind rose over the vast lake.
How had I known
(how does one know
the meaning of a symbol)?
Ethical Elle, you always questioned
facile claims to knowing
without proof, to keep
your thinking free.
("Elle in hospice")
Saturday we spoke of stopping hydration.
Elle asked us to just shoot me or make me
well. We were her agents of change,
we strangers from afar. Monday
the morphine drip. Or maybe Sunday.
The on-call hospice nurse had the worst
tobacco and whiskey voice and the voice
upset Elle who roused at last to say, No more
love. But the nurse in the middle of her
story continued so bent on telling the whole
she forgot the point of being there at all.
We heard her though we no longer listened,
having turned to Elle whose
breathing had begun to quicken.
("the green way")
Street glistens with dim, watery light,
some of the stones dark with dew,
or rose. Elle walks this every day.
The river is high at the moment.
The foot of the road has flooded.
Elle passes the yellow house
with green shutters, its yard
of Queen Anne's Lace, paint-brush,
the bluebells and bleeding-hearts
strung like pennants, and turns
because she feels warmth from early sun
on her face. Her patent leather shoes
still new for school. Their shine attracts
her gaze. The way she knows to walk
on her own is past the cemetery,
the small, unpainted houses
among the trees, green with June.
Dream of two white eagles circling above us
in great helices (meaning
what? I ask). C, Elle says, no ideas
but in dreams.
No connection but in this field of
associations, tendered, for example.
Elle stood in the square wanting to hear the language she was leaving, the desire alive even as the moment passed.
What language can one speak to the dead?
Into the cathedral Elle walked. Onto the labyrinth that she could see among the chairs used to cover it up she stepped. She saw before her letters, columnar glyphs: words as if in code (Corinth, Kore?). Said: I know my name and yours.
Yours, she whispered. And, mine.
Elle's hand was being held. She was aware of the touch, that someone was cupping her hand in theirs. Mine, she thought, in the real air, the real hand that was hers, which could be held but would soon be molecules in the world going on without her. No no no NO! The world in which You would continue. "She's still her," You wrote.
She would set a candle now that she was here in the nave, the great stone arches, the stained glass windows spectraling the light, and Phantom playing the spectacular organ.
Note: The penultimate strophe above should be indented 7 spaces; however formatting on this website disallowed the editors to make the correction. Please imagine it!
excerpts from In June the Labyrinth. Copyright © 2017 by Cynthia Hogue. Reprinted with the permission of Red Hen Press.
"The Unwritten Volume,"2014; rpt. Best American Poetry, ed. Edward Hirsch (New York: Scribner Poetry, 2016): 58-59.
Cynthia Hogue has nine collections of poetry, most recently In June the Labyrinth. Her work has appeared recently in Field, Poetry International, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Kestrel, and Best American Poetry 2016. She teaches at Arizona State University.