Knocking or Nothing

By Mary Szybist Mary Szybist
Knock me or nothing, the things of this world
ring in me, shrill-gorged and shrewish,

clicking their charms and their chains and their spouts.
Let them. Let the fans whirr.

All the similar virgins must have emptied
their flimsy pockets, and I

was empty enough,
sugared and stretched on the unmown lawn,

dumb as the frost-pink tongues
of the unpruned roses.

When you put your arms around me in that moment,
when you pulled me to you and leaned

back, when you lifted me
just a few inches, when you shook me

hard then, had you ever heard
such emptiness?

I had room for every girl's locket,
every last dime and pocketknife.

Oh my out-sung, fierce, unthinkable—
why rattle only the world

you placed in me? Won't you clutter the unkissed,
idiot stars? They blink and blink

like quiet shepherds,
like brides-about-your-neck.

Call them out of that quietness.
Knock them in their nothing, against their empty enamel,

against the dark that has no way to hold them
and no appetite.

Call in the dead to touch them.
Let them slip on their own chinks of light.

Mary Szybist, "Knocking or Nothing" from Incarnadine. Copyright © 2013 by Mary Szybist.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

Source: Incarnadine (Graywolf Press, 2013)

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Poet Mary Szybist

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Living, Disappointment & Failure, Sorrow & Grieving, The Body, The Mind

Poetic Terms Couplet

 Mary  Szybist


Mary Szybist grew up in Pennsylvania. She earned degrees from the University of Virginia and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow. Her first collection of poetry, Granted (2003), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the 2004 Great Lakes Colleges Associations New Writers Award.  Her second book, Incarnadine (2013), won the National Book Award for Poetry. . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Disappointment & Failure, Sorrow & Grieving, The Body, The Mind

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Couplet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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