“Infinite nesting,” “nodes, “root elements,” “null,” “cluster”—the first stanza of the poem deploys mathematical terms, but no more appear in the other stanzas. What associations come to mind for you here with mathematics, and why does the poem move on or away from them?
The terms (null, node, nesting) do come from mathematics. They offered me a fresh vocabulary for my scrutiny of the objects around me and their unending vitality and dissolution to the point of nullity. As soon as I had found those words, I dropped them and turned back to the stairs. I think for me a staircase is a challenge that even a child faces. And it carries symbolic value, just by the job it performs. I suppose every poem is a figure of speech, in that its words are a re-writing of what the objective world says in its own grammatical way.
That stairwell also figures in “The Cenotaph.” Why does this image recur?
Because now I can see how the wood on the steps are sloping, after 150 years of feet dragging up and down them. It is the impress of human history on the objects left behind. It was real, it was hard.
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This poem originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Poetry magazine