The Exchange by Sophie Cabot Black

Posted 5.1.13

Sophie Cabot Black reads three poems from her third poetry collection, The Exchange, published in May by Graywolf Press.

Afterlife

I could only close my eyes on the blue
Shirtsleeve of leaving and understand
I was to make my own sentence. No voice

Heard as once imagined nor did she 
Beckon and somehow know what I did not
Know, behind her what I loved            

All the while. I stayed as long 
As I could; each morning I made the mind 
Work again, each evening faced the window:

This much I remember. But to solve 
Where you are you must finish. Ahead a color 
Best called white in a room that appears

Unlike any other. Everything used 
To get there will fall away. And to look back
Is to watch the child lie down on the floor 

In the exact outline and angle I once was
To see what I saw. To take on the precise edge of
How it ends is also where it begins.

It Never Goes Away

I will try to know your death exactly
As you do. The moon has shown up tonight,
Coin in the palm of one we wait for, sunset    

Long gone. So hard this practice to wake 
Into no more light, not even in the place
You left it. Then each morning comes 

And you are followed by the rise
Of landscape everywhere. We never know 
How much it takes, this business 

Of departure; you stare into ocean
Outdone by all you want. Enough     
Of what continues. Here it comes again,

The turning of dark and dirt, unable to stop;
Love, even with everything to be sad about.

Pay Attention            

I can only do what is here. But you
Have an entire congregation of choice, 
If you are who they say. The child
Believes you cannot be, just 

Doing nothing. I watched, I asked
But also without going very far.
I took care of myself. I took care
Of myself, thinking much too often

I took care of someone else.
Everything feels like payment. In fact
We come into this paying. And you, who are
Nowhere to be found, who make

No noise, who cannot be smelled or tasted, 
Wander through with all of us wanting you
At the same time. Oh to be wanted
Like that, for you to pull up a chair

And let your knees touch mine.
For one moment not to answer
The other call, not to look
Past my shoulder when something else moves.

Reprinted from The Exchange with permission of Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2013 by Sophie Cabot Black.