9:22 PM Posted by James Owens


Implications of the Word ‘Wisp’


White gulls in a gray mist mar the absolute,
scoring staggered arcs on the wet sky,
iambic stroke of wings muffled by struggle
to hold a course against the belling gusts.

One dips to skim a shimmer from the water—
dead-on accuracy despite the wind, a glide
and quick spearing—the inchling fish is there
then not, a flick of the head to swallow it,

and wings beat wind to climb again. The mind
lags behind events. Description is always
an account of the past, even the mind’s accounting
for itself. This is not another simple page

of birds and weather, though the lake throws squalls
at him and shaves the curls of foam from break-
ers’ crests. Ecume, he thinks, reflexively, Schaum,
and tries out phrases: the icy winter hisses,

the killing winter coos and coddles, it
dawdles and strokes his brow, his hands, his neck,
coldly, lasciviously


Events bias the world.

The moment, say,
he saw her step
in blue from the doorway,
the dress she wore
a wrap of sky that coins
of sunlight spangled under maple leaves—

and shadows of leaves
that changed over her
as he walked beside,
the shifting regions
of deeper blue like fleeting,
obscure thoughts,
and the rest of the day
was changed, was more—


The mind retreats from self to words, to breath—

No emptiness can last. The mind digresses,
and wind that stood a moment for non-being,

for not-thinking, and held true for that moment
the bluff broad gust had filled—the noisy self

forgotten and blank and blown through rain and cold—
the wind now slacks and turns. And the word wisp

the Old Norse visk, a stick, and then whisk broom,
and whisker, thinning to wisp, a thing dissolving

against the sky, as light as a hair and lost,
and verge, the border dividing sand and water,

water and sky, self and wind, wispy foam and gone.



Sorlil said...

I really like this, it requires a number of readings and parts of it remain in the back of the mind like all good poetry. I can't really comment on it just now other than to say I really like it, it needs a lot of mulling over!

Roxana said...

yes, I agree with sorlil, one has to read this again and again. while I thought of Mallarme in part 1, my spontaneous, emotional response was to part 2. oh this part 2 is killing me. how life, all life, is contained in this final 'more'...
and then the mind retreats from the world to your words in part 3, and there is suddenly something like a flutter of wings in the air, like a wisp, a fleeting glimpse of Truth.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

This is a strong piece, James. Each section finds its own tone - reflected in shifts in language and form. I couldn't say which section I like the best. Fine poem.

anhaga said...


Thank you for being willing to give the poem more than one reading. It's a risk, posting a poem like this one, but I'm glad that it has found sympathetic readers.

anhaga said...


I think you're right about Mallarme in the first section, though I had not thought of that before. He is the spirit that stands behind the poet here, whispering. I'm happy about your response to part two. This was written first, and it used to be longer, but now I think I was right to make the revisions.

Section three worries me. Is it too arbitrary that this person is standing on the shore, thinking about etymology? (I stand on the shore and think about etymology, and I wouldn't be surprised if you and sorlil and sam do that, too. But do other people think this way?) Anyway, I feel beter about it now.

Is it too bad -- or is it the only thing that saves us from insanity -- that we see truth only in a fleeting glimpse? I don't mean in the poem, necessarily.

anhaga said...


It's a paradox, isn't it? I want to keep these three sections together as one poem precisely because they are so different....

Thank you for the reading.

Sorlil said...

This is very lovely on every read. I like the variety and changes in tone.

I'm beginning to recognise a pattern in your writing where the reader is pulled into the artificial world of the poem which the reader is then made aware of yet still within the artificiality of the poem.
It's like a poem within a poem: a first order poem and a meta-poem.

The first two verses are in the sense of a first order poem followed by two verses written in the sense of a meta-poem. Part two is again a poem of a first order and part three begins as a first order poem which melts into a meta-poem by drawing attention to language. I hope this makes sense!

anhaga said...


Thank you for such a careful reading. What you have written does make sense to me. I hadn't thought of it that way, but I do see what you mean, I think. I even see a pattern in other things I've written. It really is true that sometimes another sees things that a writer misses in his or her own work, from being too close, maybe, or just writing on instinct without much analysis....