Friday, April 17, 2015

Poem for the Weekend: Gjertrud Schnackenberg


The poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in Washington state and studied at Mount Holyoke College, where she won the first of many poetry awards. Best known for her masterful use of prosody and blank verse, Schnackenberg's most recent book of poetry, Heavenly Questions, was an elegiac work written after the illness and death of her husband, the philosopher Robert Nozick. You can watch her read a poem from that collection here.


by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Threading the palm, a web of little lines
Spells out the lost money, the heart, the head,
The wagging tongues, the sudden deaths, in signs
We would smooth out, like imprints on a bed,

In signs that can't be helped, geese heading south,
In signs read anxiously, like breath that clouds
A mirror held to a barely open mouth,
Like telegrams, the gathering of crowds -

The plane's X in the sky, spelling disaster;
Before the whistle and hit, a tracer flare;
Before rubble, a hairline crack in plaster
And a housefly's panicked scribbling on the air.


  1. Ahhhh....if we could only read the lines and be prepared for the disaster to come.....

  2. Perhaps it's better we can't, Rosemary. Chances are, we wouldn't agree on the meaning of the sign anyway!

  3. Signs like doodles from the heart, on the breath, often left unread.
    I enjoyed her reading of "Fusiturricula Lullaby" from Heavenly Questions.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka