Three Poems

Erica Funkhouser

#5At the center of our galaxy, a black hole. We know this, despite itsinvisibility, because the black hole’s fathomless gravity tugs at starsas they whirl by. Inside, every invisible thing is compressed into asingularity. “The trouble with death,” wrote Henry James, is that itsmooths the folds of those whom we love, reducing to one or twopoints the swarm of possibilities. I launch myself into the swarm.#17On the day it is announced that gravitational waves have been heard,as these things are heard, by a wobble of needles, I read that a senseof place is the torque between temperament and terrain. A personal chirp inone’s universe. It helps me to understand my mother if I think of heras an event that took place in distant space and, because its wavescould travel unimpeded by matter, has finally brought its birdsongto earth. Over a billion years ago two black holes collided; now ourinstruments of detection have become so elegant and so acute in theirL-shaped tunnels in Louisiana and Washington and in the laboratoriesof listening, that we can eavesdrop on creation. One day I’ll hear theanswer to my mother’s Who do you think you are? She loved to sit inbig man-made spaces—gymnasiums, opera houses—difficult to spot.#28My mother got up earlier than the rest of us. Summer and winter,always the first in the kitchen. I think she loved us most when shewas making our breakfast, while we were still asleep upstairs andno one was bossy or bratty or sulking or holding two chubby armsout and asking to be picked up. Before that, there were just muffinsrising in the oven, oatmeal expertly bubbling, seven empty glasses.

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Erica  Funkhouser

Erica Funkhouser’s previous collections of poems—Earthly (2008), Pursuit (2002), The Actual World (1997), Sure Shot and Other Poems (1992), and Natural Affinities (1983)—were published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Alice James Books. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Poetry, Agni, and other magazines. One of her poems has been sand-blasted into the Davis Square MBTA Station in Somerville, Massachusetts. A 2007 recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Funkhouser lives in Essex, Massachusetts and teaches writing at MIT.

Winner of the Idaho Prize for Poetry 2017

“The formal deftness of these couplets—three per page of almost exactly the same length which are, yes, a set of fence rails. Some might find that sort of strategy suspect: the idea that a formal or structural device could shape a collection in a meaningful way, but in this case, it is so very well done. The collection’s personal, at least historically personal—family history, in which we get to know an evermore silent coal miner father and a eerily silent-but-communicative mother, as well as the fences, literal and figurative, that keep them separate and together. The family is the fence and the fence is the family; we’re on one side, and we’re on the other side of those rails. Add to this certain aspects of astronomical physics (black holes, the big bang, the sound of the universe speaking), and the book is both modest and immensely ambitious.”
—Robert Wrigley

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