Published on Academy of American Poets (


To remember people in the act
Of speaking is to love them
And not the turquoise substrate
Redon supposed was all there was
To vases, any container, the vessel
Objects are. To remember
People in the act of speaking
Is to love them, but not for anything
They say. An open mouth
Unembarrassed in the lower parts
Of the face, vase that when
It’s drawn becomes a lamp
Now that it’s getting darker
Earlier, done before we are
Finished forgetting not to be,
Thinking about the lip of the vase
Or a smudge of stray indigo
Above it, and the butterfly about
To test the limits of what’s happened
Once and less than once.


Copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey G. O'Brien. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 14, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

About this Poem

"’Series’ is from a suite of four poems called ‘Series’ in my next book, People on Sunday, that investigate brevity and virtuality in four media (music, painting, poetry, and politics). In this instance, I was thinking about Odilon Redon's frequent and strategic indistinction between flower petals and butterflies and how it elevates color over figure. The poem takes this privileging of form over content to an extreme by valuing the person and her capacity to say over anything she might actually utter. I was also reading Oren Izenberg's great book on this topic (poems and personhood), Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life, at the time."
—Geoffrey G. O'Brien


Geoffrey G. O'Brien

Geoffrey G. O'Brien is the author of Experience in Groups (Wave Books, 2018), People on Sunday (Wave Books, 2013), Metropole (University of California Press, 2011), Green and Gray (University of California Press, 2007), and The Guns and Flags Project (University of California Press, 2002). He teaches English at the University of California, Berkeley and San Quentin State Prison and lives in Berkeley, California.

Date Published: 2013-08-14

Source URL: