Maxine Chernoff

October 12, 2011 Chernoff Maxine


“I am not what you supposed but far different.”—Walt Whitman


Not timber or bronze or iridium, not the old habits of species at a waterhole or the short

irregular breaths of the last whispered guest

Not the grievance that gives way to truth or the truth of a three-headed beast in your atlas

of imaginary travels

Not the speaker with the plans but the quiet boy learning the rope trick in the hallway

outside the room

Not the intelligence noted for its acute air of judiciousness but the wasp’s sharp sting as it

strikes a shapely passing ankle

Not the coiled answer waiting for its question unlike what is asked or required on a


Not the leaves in May shining ferocious in the garden where your grandson has left an

onion resting on a stone

Not the fierce attention of the man on the traffic island holding a sign that says something

smeared by the rain

Not the notice given by an eye to another in its hope of dependence on kindness or its

hope of notice in a room full of candles

Not the bored glance of a mother whose child has climbed higher than last time but is

busy with hurt and resentment

Not the author whose page is so busy with sound that he forgets each word’s landscape is

a story with beginning and end

Not your hand or my hand or the things that we touch in a day which includes so many

forms of heaviness, so much light

Not the tinge of memory in a place where someone else stood unaware of your life

or its constant necessity to record its existence in each room’s sharp corner

Not formal analysis or credo or code or the heard cries of pelicans over the water of the

bay’s dark shadow under the bridge

Not earth’s solitude early in the day when most everyone is sleeping and you are alone in

a kitchen where he or she once daily stood

Not the pouring of water or the boiling of kettles or the singing of neon as it advertises

books or massages or bereavement services

Not Augustine of Hippo or Herodotus or Longinus or Mrs. Miller or Captain Courageous

Not the oldest book or rarest coin or smallest bird known to sip water from a clover

Not your face in a mirror or a window nor your voice as heard on a recording among the

others nor your method of material witness to things as they open like a novel’s first


You are not in the room or the story or the thought you are not in the absence spoken as a

charm against itself


Maxine Chernoff is the author of a number of books of fiction and poetry, including Evolution of the Bridge: Selected Prose Poems. A frequent reviewer for the New York Times, she is a winner of the P.E.N. Syndicated Fiction Award and New York Times Notable Book Award. With Paul Hoover, she translatedThe Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin, which won the 2009 PEN Translation Award, and together they edit the long-running literary journal New American Writing. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, Story, Partisan Review, North American Review, and Triquarterly, among many other journals and reviews.