Mar 252011

—Photo by Carl Olsen

Nancy Eimers has been a colleague and a friend at Vermont College of Fine Arts longer than I can calculate. Very long. She has this look, when I see her, as if she’s a bit worried about me, as if there is something to worry about besides the stuff I already know. Then she smiles—such a relief. Her readings at our residencies are always occasions. Here are four Nancy Eimers poems from her hot-off-the-press poetry collection, Oz, published in January from Carnegie Mellon University Press. Her three previous collections are A Grammar to Waking (Carnegie Mellon, 2006), No Moon (Purdue University Press, 1997) and Destroying Angel (Wesleyan University Press, 1991). She has been the recipient of a Nation “Discovery” Award, two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships and a Whiting Writer’s Award, and her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary magazines.  Nancy teaches creative writing at Western Michigan University and at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


Four Poems from Oz

By Nancy Eimers


Confession of a Luddite

(28-hour power outage)

It had been raining, and it would rain.
Without the streetlights tending them
trees turned into a forest,

the houses had fallen back,
I found myself coveting old brass keys
to doors that are lost

and the keys to my old typewriter
for like piano keys,
when you pressed them

something pressed back.
Bill beside me, the two of us walked along
in an elder dark

though an oaf-ish light blared
in a couple of houses powered by the roar
of generators draining the dark

as if it were a basement of water.
But dark was a folk art, dark was a primitive
science composing the very wetness

of bark.  No government
could have taken over0
so quietly.  Without newspapers or stars.

Without the sounds of cars or shoes.
For a moment, nothing needed anything.
Every now and then we came upon candles

deep in houses
and throwing a see-through light,
light that had no argument

with the dark.

My Parents Contemplate Moving a Last Time

They speak as if they have ten thousand years

To go about recalibrating numbers,
The distance from home to church and shopping, couch to television,

Degree and slant of light in the laundry room.

Light to dark and wall to wall they have been traveling,

Years of back and forth
Between each other’s eyes and mouths,

He, asleep in his chair at night, she, riding the dip
She always rides at her end of the couch.

They seem to know time as an ordinary thing

As they sit and procrastinate forever
Over USA Today and the Arizona Republic,

Half-decaf, melon and toast.

No map of future’s day or night, the shallows marked with squiggly lines,
The depths not marked, they are that steep, will guide them;

Nor do they seek the blueprint of a wave.

More coffee, honey?  Pass me the Jumble, please.

I watch them contemplate their move so quietly
It resembles just sitting there over breakfast

Talking themselves backwards, toward the smallest house in the universe–


To watch this losing part of itself—

this frozen dash,
a sign, a pause, a being poised—

at the speed of ice—

just think, says the ranger, it is made of individual snowflakes-
I love that bend of her voice
into my head where her sentence goes on—

compressed into a vastness, making this one incredible thing
moved along by the force of its enormous weight,
finding its way down out of the mountains

in the shape of an S—relentless plurality—all those battered snowflakes—
to the sea.

At one place in its side
three ice-caverns—two eyes and a mouth—so like

—so strange—Munch’s “The Scream.”

Each calving’s a fusillade—
the sound an “outpouring of anything,”

an inner surge.

If there is a waiting, it is ours.
Watching the face change its expression

every time a chunk of ice breaks off—

and yet behind it this entirety—boundless, immense, this tidy sum—
the face forlorn—dejected—hangdog now—
our faces turned to it, our eyes and cameras trained on it

as if to document the very moment
something in us changed,
the ship turning in place—deft for so big a thing—

while all along immensity recedes so incrementally we can’t—
we just can’t
put a human face on it—


There is something furtive about the water

It is most itself at dawn or dusk.
It falls in a haze,

it speaks to the grass in a whisper.

But the outgoing, voluble grass

fills in gaps in the conversation.
There are citizens who attend to it

better than others.  Grass refers to itself
or it overflows.

As a matter of policy, all it witnesses
and all you ask

the grass denies:

in the end, every lawn mower
is just a trailing off.

First there were streets and driveways,
then the houses, one by one,

amid the ploughed-up loneliness,

and the people
to come and settle it.

Only then the grass.  Around.  After, before.

There are over 9,000 species.  The terrestrial, not to mention
the aquatic.

Its fruit is dry and dull
on stalks that bend to the shear of wind.

It used to roll and roll without impediment
and say expanse.

On a windless day it still resembles a body of water
but only

once you’ve closed your eyes.

—Nancy Eimers

See also: an interview with Nancy Eimers.

(Post design by Mahtem Shiferraw)

  3 Responses to “Four Poems from Oz — Nancy Eimers”

  1. Such beautiful work. I just keep rereading this line:

    But dark was a folk art, dark was a primitive
    science composing the very wetness
    of bark.

    I’m realy taken with Nancy’s ability to weave the knowable through the lense of a [mysteriously, softly] distilled poetic. These poems give us snapshots of personal and ordinary aspects of life disseminated through such a refined consciousness—it’s like being led through two worlds, the one we know, full of circumstance and identifiable things, while the looming sentiment is one of newness and maybe some of that dream state that Nancy references in the interview that’s linked above. When I read these poems, it’s as if knowing is illuminated, or perhaps, backlit with poetic inference, refreshing and reinterpreting the world with a bit of that magic we seek in poetry. Beautiful!

  2. Wonderful throwing of the see-through light throughout your “Confession…,” Nancy. I think the title’s too small for it, but whatever you call it, it’s a poem I’ll remember.

  3. I’m taken by “Confession.” Wow, the lines are gorgeously measured and exquisitely balanced. The stanzas are also extremely well paced. The break between the third and fourth is captivating: “when you pressed them // something pressed back.”

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