The Project of Linear Inquiry

By Michael Palmer b. 1943 Michael Palmer
[Let a be taken as . . .]
a liquid line beneath the skin
and b where the blue tiles meet
body and the body’s bridge
a seeming road here, endless

rain pearling light
chamber after chamber
of dust-weighted air
the project of seeing things
so to speak, or things seen

namely a hand, namely
the logic of the hand
holding a bell or clouded lens
the vase perched impossibly near the edge
obscuring the metal tines.

She said “perhaps” then it echoed.
I stood there torn
felt hat in hand
wondering what I had done
to cause this dizziness

“you must learn to live with.”
It reveals no identifiable source
(not anyway the same as a forest floor).
A vagrant march time, car
passes silently, arm rests at his side

holding a bell or ground lens
where c stands for inessential night –
how that body would
move vs how it actually does –
too abstract &/or not abstract enough

but a closed curve in either case
she might repeat
indicating the shallow eaves
nothing but coats and scarves below the window
his-her face canted to the left

nothing imagined or imaginable
dark and nothing actually begun
so that the color becomes exactly as it was
in the miniuscule word for it
scribbled beside an arrow

on the far wall
perfectly how else continuous with memory.
There are pomegranates on the table
though they have been placed there
salt, pepper, books and schedules

all sharing the same error
and measure of inattention.
What she says rolls forward.
I shouted toward motion, other gestured,
child laughs, sky,

traffic, photograph. I
gave a real pain, expelled
breath, decided. Both arms in thought,
mirror otherwise, abandoned
structures mostly, the glass

door with its inscription lay open
before us, nothing to fear.

“The Project of Linear Inquiry” by Michael Palmer, from The Lion Bridge Copyright © 1998 by Michael Palmer. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Source: The Lion Bridge (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Michael Palmer b. 1943


SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

Subjects Relationships, Men & Women, Nature, The Body, The Mind, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Michael Palmer was born in New York City and educated at Harvard in the early 1960s, where he encountered Confessional poetry. His opposition to Confessionalism found root in a developing poetics when he attended the landmark 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, a three-week gathering where he met Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Clark Coolidge. Correspondence with those three poets greatly influenced Palmer’s early development . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Men & Women, Nature, The Body, The Mind, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics


SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.