Michael Collier

To Isabella Franconati
February 14, 2015 Collier Michael

To Isabella Franconati


After your husband died and the cypress trees,

which he described as “feathers,” constituting

“an evidence or inclination of God’s breath,”

were cut down and milled into wood for cigar boxes,

you closed the heavy blue shutters of his workroom

for the last time, the view unbearable that framed

his decades of silence in which he saw

in the brown river below, winding through its shallow

alluvial valley, the intractable force of his lost

conviction, reading as he did in everything

formulations of soul and spirit. To live

as long as you did in the shadow of a man no longer

casting a shadow brought forth a light from you

that outshone his solitude and which dispelled

your nostalgia for his former intensities.

That’s why you would not countenance

acolytes, like me, whose reverence for the time and place

of his self-making forgave what you suffering

his dissolution could not forgive,  a man who broke

faith with all the tenets he’d devised for art,

whose failure in life, the hollowness of his days,

was another way for us to assume safely the peril

of his vocation. Unlike you, we began in disbelief

and so to be given faith, even an empty one, was a gift.

“After death,” he wrote, “there are two alternatives,

both heartless: memory & forgetfulness.” Franconati

was a made-up name and you, his friend, Isabella,

a made-up wife. I loved one of you before I loved you both.

memory or forgetfulness? In the long posthumous life

he bequeathed us, which came first?

Michael Collier is the author of five books of poems, including The Ledge, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and most recently, Dark Wild Realm. He is also co-editor, along with Charles Baxter and Edward Hirsch, of  A William Maxwell Portrait. His translation of Euripides’s Medea appeared in 2006 and a collection of essays, Make Us Wave Back, in 2007. Collier has received a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Pushcart Prize, and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Maryland and is the director of The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.