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The Weight of Nothing

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                      to end with nothing is something
                              Suvan Geer

                      or to rephrase a popular Billy Preston song,
                      “somethin’ from nothin’ is somethin’”


everyone loves
the disappearing
coin. a bird pulled from
an empty hat. the comfort of
trusting a magician’s hands.
when we know we’ll get some-
thing from what
he takes away.


the student’s assignment—
concentrate on nothing
for fifteen minutes a day.
she tries to empty her head
but can’t figure out how.
after all, she doesn’t know what
nothing sounds or looks like,
and the teacher won’t give
the slightest clue. yet
she’s got a good hunch
the exercise might quiet
all that shriek and clatter
trapped between her ears.
so like a good pupil,
she devotes an entire year
searching for nothing.
some days she’s as still
as a stone, but can’t
escape the distractions
of river and wind,
footsteps approaching,
birds calling in the trees
overhead. or closing
her eyes, she’ll focus
on a cloudless blue sky.
pillows and planes and purple
sunsets keep interrupting.
she silently repeats words
like ocean or why,
chants sounds that dwell
low in her throat
like maah and uhmm.
at year’s end her teacher
asks if she’s found nothing.
she tells him she’s found
everything but nothing.
he smiles, you’recloser
than you think. now
try for twenty minutes.


we’ve all seen them—
looking at their empty
outstretched palms,
and we’re fooled, thinking
about what isn’t there.
sighing, they marvel
at all they’ve held in those hands,
their history revealed
in the thickened joints,
the full weight of their desire—
even now, incredible
hands still opening
and grasping
when there’s nothing to keep.


without my friend Nothing
on the page, I’d never have to write
another poem. but Nothing waits
here, waving me on, inviting me
to rap and rant, pray sing, testify
what is, was, could, and always will be.
I greet all that’s coming,
contained as sheer breath
into word, born
to crave and engrave the emptiness
that Nothing can’t stop giving.

Amy Uyematsu, “The Weight of Nothing” from Stone Bow Prayer. Copyright © 2005 by Amy Uyematsu. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. www.coppercanyonpress.org
Source: Stone Bow Prayer (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
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The Weight of Nothing

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  • Poet Amy Uyematsu was raised in southern California by parents who had been interned in American camps during World War II. She earned her undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles.
    Uyematsu’s poems consider the intersection of politics, mathematics, spirituality, and the natural world. She is the author of several poetry collections, including Stone Bow Prayer (2005), Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain (1997), and 30 Miles from J-Town (1992), which won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize.
    Uyematsu co-edited the seminal anthology Roots: An Asian American Reader (1971), and her own work has been included in the anthologies Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems and Poetics from California (2008, edited by Christopher Buckley and Gary Young), The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles (2003, edited by Scott Timberg and Dana Gioia), and Sister Stew: Fiction and Poetry by Women (1991, edited by Juliet Kono...

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