Susan Stewart
Shoulders knobbed against   
a slat-backed chair,   
the temples tugged, a pull



at the nape, you felt the up-

sweep as she smoothed the fine   
wisps back and tucked


yank into yank

and a third into that   
until the consecutive


dodges of thumbs and first   

fingers gathered,   
fraying and filing


to their end—ended

in an ornament that, suspended,   
looked ridiculous, even


on a child who mostly   

set forth with   
what was called


a “finished” look, some   

loose ends in order where   
others were not


and a slight weight below   

the nape’s pull. The view   
others had of it


was invisible to you.

It made something there   
where there would have been


a blank—now instead   

a kind of face   
sent from woman to


woman like a duty,   

an obstinate   
duty to pattern.


It’s too simple to see   

one thing rather   
than another, a wish


protruding once it’s been   

suppressed, a vise that holds   
a thought in its proper


place until it bobs   

to the surface
of a generally balmy


sea. Women and   

woman only a letter   
away—a strand gets


mixed, then mixed   

right out of the heaven   
of perfect fit;


one kind of accident   

turns into another.
The whole head throbs for days.


Black and white are woven   

into gray the way   
hyperbole has no chance


once it’s juxtaposed   

to reason—negation   
just a thread among


the available options   

and hope itself apparent   
there in the very


notion a made thing can last.   

Tougher, coarser, split   
weave in the years. Shorter,


longer, shorter, the brain   

bound to its anchor.   
The brushed-out waves


with their rick-rack   

shadows, a thread   
inside the case,


the case inside

the locket, the locket   
beneath the yoke.


All the effort   

to save in itself   
a form of loss.


You can tell a story

many ways. You can leave   
something out or put


something in; you can fool   

yourself and hide.   
You can shake out


the form or try

to manage every wisp,   
but the latter will


only bring you pain.   

You went under
the hand and eye of another


and the tether cannot   

be undone.
Found In Volume 28, No. 04
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  • susan stewart
Susan Stewart
About the Author

Susan Stewart’s most recent books of criticism are Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, which won the Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism in 2003 from Phi Beta Kappa, and The Open Studio: Essays on Art and Aesthetics, a collection of her writings on contemporary art. Her most recent books of poetry are Columbarium, which won the 2003 National Book Critics Circle award, andThe Forest. She is a former MacArthur Fellow and teaches at Princeton.