First Ode: The Problem of Setting

by Sophie Strand


Not a flower. Not a smell.
Not a word, although the word helps.

Not a hunch of mountain, an efflorescence
just erupted in the bush, or weather. Not a

music with the voice threaded under
the saxophone so that it surfaces once. Not a

tree. Not the thin spit coming from a beak
puncture in the black maple’s heart. Not a heart,

although it has one. Not a love, although it can.
Not an it, although the word works for others. Not

an other. Not a population, precision, or
generality; four legs in dirt or transfixed vision,

green ash on the pond surface, the heron;
not the ability to know, although it knows to

know. Not an animal. Not a woman.
Not a nudity or fur or texture. Not water

or anything to live by. Not a world,
although it eats world. Not in time,

not clocks or hours, although it
dies, by another name, according to schedule.

Not the ability to stop, to regrow, to return
although it takes and takes. Not a home. Not a way

of saying.  Not a real thing. Not mind. Not mind.



These are not your legs, your ways
of saying hello. Insert birdcall, the one

that comes most easily to ear. What will my novel
be about? Turtle dove. Your voice, impossible

to transmit reel to reel, must be symbolized.
Through a window I see your profile opening

and closing in order to talk about abstracted
water, oil, word, word. The problem of color

is a problem of world. I say she was blue.
You are not. The reader makes a picture

out of the love most ready to hand: bed,
window, the morning of this hour and day,

a bird, this real bird. To explain the plot
I will gesture with raised hands when suddenly,

from behind me, an imaginary animal yawns,
learns to speak. The words let go of your hand,

fly to mine: paper-light, immaterial. Have you
reached the scene where nothing happens? She is

on the edge of a field, wearing a yellow dress.
Justice can only ever be done to a part: you,

her version of you, my eye, the field like
crumpled parchment. The scar on the under

of your chin is unusual enough to exist,
and yet now that I look for it, all I find is my nominal,

scar, but no scar. A body fits inside a word,
one word: you. Here, insert character. Insert name.

World, by the time I begin to write,
how far are you from my words?


Did you know future time constitutes this
world? If mankind had died before Newton

named gravity, all the apples would still fall
down. The name time is alien to the material

it implies. Have you ever seen morning happen
for no one? Is there a mustard seed in the house

of a family where no one has died? Riddles
are important; they trick the human

back into cells. The answer
requires a different biology. But don’t despair.

If you cannot, at least the stones will know.
Although the alchemists failed, they did make gold.

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