What Is the Difference

Stein asked what is the difference. She did not ask what is the sameness. Did not ask what like is. Or proximity.  Resemblance. Did not ask what child of what patriarch what height what depth didn’t use a question mark but still wondered at the difference what mutinies it carries over what vast Arctic what far shore.

What is the difference between blind and bond. Between desk and red. Between capsize and sail. Between commodity and question. A lively thing, a fractured thing. To smile at the difference.

(Such gray clouds passing over. Thick, wet sky.)

What is the difference between mutiny and dust. Between noose and edge. Between brittle and obey.

Between shunned and stun. What is the difference.

As now, Mary Shelley’s monster flees to the north, his sack of books his lone companions.


Copyright © 2016 by Laurie Sheck. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 26, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This piece came into being during the time I was immersed in the Shelley manuscripts and Frankenstein (a word that I now see contains “stein” herself), and with reimagining Mary Shelley’s “monster” still alive in the 21st century, as I wrote my hybrid work, “A Monster’s Notes.” All writing is hybridity in one form or another—Gertrude Stein, the monster, Mary Shelley, they are all embedded in this piece. As Stein said, “The thing one gradually comes to find out is that one has no identity that is when one is in the act of doing anything…I am I because my little dog knows me but, creatively speaking the little dog knowing that you are you and your recognizing that he knows, that is what destroys creation. That is what makes school.”
—Laurie Sheck