GHAZAL OF THE EMPTY THING by Cole Swensen
GHAZAL OF THE EMPTY THING
Her brows crowded together
An unbroken line.
The army advancing
A mile wide
And then her chest cavity collapsed.
They were carrying flags.
Wind occupied the house.
And they became it
And carried them lightly.
Part of a group of seven poems that appeared in Conjunctions: 21 (1983, Bard College, New York), subtitled "the credos issue," is Cole Swensen’s "Ghazal of the Empty Thing." I presume that these poems all subsequently appear in one of her trade collections, but so far, I haven’t seen it. An American poet from Denver, Colorado, Swensen has published over half a dozen trade collections of poetry over the years, although I’ve only managed to get my hands on four: numen (1995), Oh (2000) and Such Rich Hour (2001) and Goest (2004).
There was something about this poem that stuck with me for weeks, after finding a copy of the magazine twenty years after it was first published, in a dollar bin at Octopus Books in Ottawa, in the summer of 2003. Something that brought me back to it, again and again. I like that there isn’t any obvious thread but the "empty" thread, which is the thread itself. An absolutely lovely series of small moments set up against each other.
The ghazal, as played by North American english-speaking types, works with its disconnections, five couplets that don’t necessarily hold together; they hold simply through that refusal instead of despite it. I love the disconnectedness, evoking more of an umbrella feeling and vague image than any one thing. It is never one specific thing that makes a poem work, but the unknowing, the unknowable. Sometimes it is precisely that thing that you can’t explain that makes it.
There are so many moments between the lines that any narrative thread I could suggest would then erase all others. I refuse. I want to hold to all the potentials that this short poem will allow. I want to live in the wide open spaces of this poem forever. I do not want to understand.