WORKING NOTES by Elizabeth Willis
I can't say that I even intended to write these; that is, they're not propositional in any way. But I became fascinated by the ways in which lines arranged themselves around a focal point--generally grounded in sound and the underlying affiliations between words rather than events--and that without trying to shape them with any formal constraints, these poems emerged in roughly the same form and with roughly the same kind of interdependency. I spend a lot of time commuting so my line is often sporadic & sprung, filled with minor subject matter except for the backdrop of transitoriness, which seems to run through the sonnet as a form. And since I tend to write poems by carving away at them for months at a time, I wanted a title that suggested some kind of compression and some degree of lyric openness.


Eight Untitled Sonnets


To live in someone
else's music
(the musician not the composer is free)
a divine contention
like the damp carpet
of liquored olivia trees
(something my favorite you
would say)
finding in a hollow day
a winter keeper
a paper woman
caught in the torrent
not quite falling





Figs of lost thought
rainy differences and non-glides
feverish in girlways
the tenuous escape of a patient
nodding, obstinate
jeweled or pinked
a pilling station
(laughing, molten)
behind a gay exterior
or broad caplet
too tough to swallow





Carrying an atmosphere
beaten out like sound
a still life of amnesty
on the little lane
trees are safely tucked
below the wires
a darkness carried
out of childhood,
other kindnesses
"I looked"
and fell to





Unable to hire oneself
for labor or to know
the green, braided thing
someone sees
inside you

forgetting your grasp
or "words"
in a paper understanding
a paper flap of happy self
your dream above your head
like comic weather





The teacher's love
of someone's children
a flash of light
in white air

so loving love
we lack science
and in ourselves
touch up the little teacher's picture





Thinking through
a desperate wedge
of indivisible ink
I fall in filaments
an uncontrolled breeze
nutsy, bottled
forged & forgot
crawling (not climbing) down
netted, I bet





As proud & difficult as greek
a vigil (or Virgil)
kept bright
waiting to happen
your father walking
toward your mother
as you briefly look away
then follow like a nonsense syllable
Ma. Pa.





Loving the human bird --
the bright converse
of yellow-flowered grasses --
why aren't we lying
in miles of weedy clover?
The bright boat, tumbling through it
the blue of it -- Or,
taking the kid out of the picture
(what you loved to see)
a girl who talks to birds -- Don't go
Let's delay or -- like Shakespeare -- "fly"
all disappointment
in the green and untidy
molecular air


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BIO: Elizabeth Willis is the author of The Human Abstract (Penguin, 1995) and Second Law (Avenue B, 1993). She teaches creative writing and literature at Mills College in Oakland, California.


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