My Nature

You gave me your wildest no.
Thank you, I said.
I will keep it forever.
I will put it in a little box
and carry it across rivers
on top of my head
at daybreak.

I will bury it and dig it up
Bury it and dig it up.
Take it for a walk on the path
ignoring the rolling of eyes.

I had big plans for your no.
But it was so wild
I had to tame it first.
I said no to the no.
I told it to go to its room
or else.

Where it grew into a wilderness
which threatened to kill me
if I didn’t enter it.
In this wilderness
the only defense
was defenselessness.

Go to your room, it said, or else.
So I went.
And found many rooms.
Every form of death
to lie down in and get up from—

At first I felt sorry for my name.
How it was always drowning
in your mouth. Code for
“I’m going under.”

Then I realized I could always try
to have you. And that
could be a joke between us.

Isn’t it always funny
to see a knight visor-down
swiping at trees in a wood
shaggy hemlocks in the tart air?

(What a fool—)
and yet it seems wise
to align oneself with no.
The word that will survive
all other words.

When I say it I get
a strong sense of déjà vu.
As if I am flowering in a copse.
Or have already become
the leaves some knight
is now slicing through.

I imagine myself alone
but in pieces. Companionable.
Golden flakes shuttering
all the way to the ground.
Not lonely at all.

What I could do with your no.
It is a gift so precious
so precious, I cannot accept it.

Click here to read Tanya Larkin on the origin of the poem.

Image: “Golden Hour” by Sean Riley, licensed under CC 2.0.

Tanya Larkin:
In the fall, I wrote a series of unrequited love poems to wear out a love or come to understand why I couldn’t. I started with a compound “no” on the part of the unrequited love. Then I couldn’t get a Dickinson quote out of my head and knew I had to address it no matter in this context. “No,” she says, “is the wildest word we consign to Language” in letter 562. I started with a catalog of what I would do with the “no”—sew it into the hem of dress, bathe it, groom it like a pedigreed pet, make it walk upright with a ball on its nose; I drove a thousand golf ball “no’s.” I eschewed all of these possibilities because they were too cute and didn’t express my emotional predicament. The poem had to be more ceremonious and intentional—I was not sleeping—I felt like I was literally dying from the “no,” and so the poem had to have that sort of pitch if I was ever going to find my way out of my obsessive thinking. In the course of the cataloging, I was given the ending and that set the tone I more or less kept while leaving an opening for playfulness, or hysteria, depending on how you read it. In a lyric poem, I always have to figure out how I am talking to myself before going on. (The reference to the “path” in the poem is a reference to “The Path,” a much longer lyric essay-poem on The Critical Flame.)

Tanya Larkin
Latest posts by Tanya Larkin (see all)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.