Author: Rusty Morrison

Rusty Morrison's the true keeps calm biding its story won the 2008 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, selected by Rae Armantrout, Claudia Rankine, and Bruce Smith. It also won The Ahsahta Press 2007 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, selected by Peter Gizzi, and the 2007 Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, selected by Susan Howe. Rusty Morrison's first poetry collection, Whethering, won the Colorado Prize for Poetry (Center for Literary Publishing 2004), selected by Forrest Gander. Her poems, essays, or reviews have appeared in Boston Review, Chicago Review, Coconut, Colorado Review, Columbia: A Journal of Art and Literature, Denver Quarterly, Eleven Eleven, First Intensity, The Modern Review, New American Writing, Parthenon West, Tinfish, Verse, VOLT, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere. She is a contributing editor for Poetry Flash and co-publisher of Omnidawn.

within us & purely & being overturned & the instant alone & end

within us

everything within us demands
      that we hold our breath
until fear makes a word for what frightens us.
No word more fine and eloquent
than ‘death’.
Each word, the shape of a god

already gone.
On our lips, on the tip of the tongue, even as we kiss—
the minds of how many gods
I saw a god once—reflected in lake water, an eye white as the lantern
I light inside pain
to know it. What the wind
steals back to dark, the wordlessness
where I can’t know myself, a loamy quiet,
lush tonight with redwood-sorrell and wild geranium, where I can be faceless
before their facelessness—I can close my eyes, just like a pact,
just like I turn my back on the moon
to find it
lost again in my words for it—‘you’ or ‘I’.
The way I whirl a little vertigo into our nowhere else
left to go. Let’s make it
gaudy tonight,
      green mascara-ed.


everything within us demands that death lay waste to us
      even this gleam in your hair, gleaning from my eyes
their blindness—gleaning from sense
the furies deep in our quiet, uncoiling
their braids, damp
and heavy, slow to rise from the drowning pool,


to touch you, I invent
coherence, fragrance of these oranges
we slice neatly into halves.
One grief nettles

to another, skin
we call it, even when thorny

as briar. Your laughter — erotic it is
whenever not rudimentary or purely
, but with the distance that words

would try to cross
with the confidence of a stampede.
I listen.
Strength of my dead



—no self beneath the stone,
only a history of neighborhoods
fallen into wells, of three-legged cats

lounging slyly in the middle of the road, where
the decisive factor
is often an intangible
perfection in the scent of the soup
you’ve poured in your great-grandmother’s porcelain tureen
at the moment of its being overturned
to stutter into countless shards and stain irrevocably
your fine wool rug.
A sudden, unexpected glimpse will unspool
vision’s surest threads of substance.
Feast of grass.


the instant alone—an indifference
of new weeds rile up with the force of first rain.

Toneless, purely interruptive—winter sun’s
white emptiness, the opposite of burn,
on the back of my neck.
When nothing counted but the instant alone I escaped
the common rules, only

to find them again
. The path’s gravel is a shock
against the palms—didn’t know

I was falling, didn’t know it
as listening
to the dead, always talking.


in the end everything
      is here with me,
how have I ignored it? in the smell of rain, in the dead
center of a held breath,
in the daily saturation of sky
by time,
which I look for in color,
until I exchange the idea of any single, distinguishable color
for all of light
passing through me.
Isn’t there always ‘noise’
slipping between the sounds I try to label
as ‘noise’? Naming anything,
like perfecting the shape
      of a sieve.


in the end everything puts me at risk… before the impenetrable simplicity of

‘what is’

      As if this squalor I’ve made
weren’t enough, there is the old woman stirring the simmering
in an enormous cast iron pot.
Stooped, half-blind, she does what she wants,
smoking her stub of a cigarette, ash
      wherever it falls.


All italicized phrases are quotes from George Bataille’s The Unfinished System of Knowledge, translated by Michelle Kendall and Stuart Kendall.

These poems are part of a re-envisioning of a previously composed set of poems. Each of these poems has been “revised, disrupted, extended / ‘written into’ the work to create a new single series of poems.” The earlier incarnations of these poems were published in First Intensity, Five Fingers Review, and VOLT. The complete series of poems, Counterbalance, will be published as part of a set of three chapbooks by CALAVERAS this winter. To preorder a copy of the set, please email the editors at or visit the website.