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On Trying Not to Confuse Emptiness with Loneliness

“Why,” I asked Michael, “is it so hard to let go, to practice nonattachment? Even though I know I suffered because I was attached, I loved being attached. I loved my house, for example. How could you let go of this house, this house you built?” Michael answered, “Why let go? Everything will let go of you.”

Empty mind, empty thoughts
Empty ego, empty pain
Empty shoe (one step at a time)
Empty calendar, plate, tub, bed
Empty pocket, tank, tree, bird
(still clinging to the bough that broke)
Empty word, stage, promise, box
Empty sky, grave, heart, glass
Empty hand, dog, field, gesture
Past, future
Empty, empty try another
Empty house
Empty house
Everything empties itself of you



The sound of shifting
whether it’s snow, water, sand, or leaves
is essentially the same cadence
ebb and wane, lift
and settle, gather and abrade.
What pushes behind
wave and particle, patter and koan?

As I wait for you here trying
not to look like I’m waiting for you
here, the sound of shifting
is between us: sh-sh-sh
background, foreground,
opening and wrapping up
many things, one main thing
becoming a new sound, sounding
like the same sound before
of fear, of just the wind
of whimsy, of threat
of prairie and big sky
of urban trees and house eaves
foretelling storms or
foretelling clearance.

If you have questions, it questions;
if you have answers, it confirms;
sensually attentive and disengaged.

The snow of our courtship, crystalline, flashing;
the water we drain, bail, regrade against, redirect;
the sand in our bed, grains of our days,
warm layers over cool layers, a desert-full;
the leaves we attempted, August-dry,
false autumn, false-positive;
what pushes behind
wave and particle, patter and koan?
the sound of shifting is between us.


de Kooning Snow

“I want it to be something I will miss,” said de Kooning to Rauschenberg, “something really difficult to erase.” Rauschenberg had been working with no-image, and he had an idea. So he asked for a drawing from de Kooning, and then erased it. Would it help to understand why by seeing it? “No, probably not,” said Rauschenberg. Only two people could have looked at this palimpsest and followed the traces back into the richly layered drawing it had been, and now they are both gone. For anyone else, Erased de Kooning frames a question and its absence. What was it that de Kooning had loved?


Su Smallen is the author of Buddha, Proof, a Minnesota Book Award 2012 finalist and Weight of Light, nominated for the Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award. Other honors include the Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize, the Joy Harjo Prize, and the Tupelo Press Poetry Project. Su’s poems and essays appear in many journals, anthologies, and chapbooks, notably Bellingham Review, Cutthroat, The Normal School, Midway Journal, Water~Stone Review, Collecting Life, Body of Evidence, and the White Space Poetry Anthology. Su and her poetry were recently featured in the documentary dance film Klatch. In summer 2013, she was an Artist in Residence at Pine Needles, a project of the St. Croix Watershed Research Station and the Science Museum of Minnesota.