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In the Corridor

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I passed through, I should have paused,
there were a hundred doors. One opened.
In there, someone whose name
is not yet known to me lived out

his middle years in simple terms, two chairs,
one place laid for early breakfast, one plate
with dry toast and butter softening. There
his mind raced through writings

he had memorized long ago while he tried
to get hold of himself. Once
in his youth he had studied with love
in the corners of old paintings

matrices of fields and towns,
passages intricate and particular, wheat,
columns, figures and ground,
classically proportioned

in lines that were meant
to meet, eventually,
at vanishing point. They continued,
nevertheless; they troubled the eye.

He collected sets of books printed
in the nineteenth century, unyielding
pages, memoirs of the poets,
engravings of rurified private subjects

in times of public sector unhappiness,
frescoes of human oddity in gatefold printing.
Why does it continue
to chasten me, he says to no one.

It does. It is a painful mistaking,
this setting something down,
saying aloud, “it is nothing yet”
when he’d meant, not anything—

but then nothing peered
through the keyhole, nothing
took possession. Snow on the roofs,
snow in traces on the ground,

passersby with wet trouser-cuffs
looking to the pavement as the hill rises,
light gathering in the river
and gradually spreading.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2012)

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This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

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In the Corridor

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  • Born in Washington, DC, poet Saskia Hamilton earned a BA at Kenyon College and an MA at New York University. Her poetry collections include Canal: New and Selected Poems (2005), Divide These (2005), and As for Dream (2001). She coedited Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (2008) with Thomas Travisano and edited The Letters of Robert Lowell (2005). Her work also appears in the anthology Joining Music with Reason: 34 Poets, British and American (2010).
    Hamilton’s poems often use repetition and pattern, as well as punctuation, to trace the passages and intersections of multiple points of view and states of consciousness. “A formal tone, which incorporates a measure of discipline, distance, or restraint, creates particular complications, and the irony of Saskia Hamilton’s poetry rests in how her language, superficially clean and direct, navigates them so ably,” noted Raymond McDaniel in the Boston Review....

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