About this Poem 

"’Series’ is from a suite of four poems called ‘Series’ in my next book, People on Sunday, that investigate brevity and virtuality in four media (music, painting, poetry, and politics). In this instance, I was thinking about Odilon Redon's frequent and strategic indistinction between flower petals and butterflies and how it elevates color over figure. The poem takes this privileging of form over content to an extreme by valuing the person and her capacity to say over anything she might actually utter. I was also reading Oren Izenberg's great book on this topic (poems and personhood), Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life, at the time."
—Geoffrey G. O'Brien


Geoffrey G. O'Brien

To remember people in the act
Of speaking is to love them
And not the turquoise substrate
Redon supposed was all there was
To vases, any container, the vessel
Objects are. To remember
People in the act of speaking
Is to love them, but not for anything
They say. An open mouth
Unembarrassed in the lower parts
Of the face, vase that when
It’s drawn becomes a lamp
Now that it’s getting darker
Earlier, done before we are
Finished forgetting not to be,
Thinking about the lip of the vase
Or a smudge of stray indigo
Above it, and the butterfly about
To test the limits of what’s happened
Once and less than once.

Copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey G. O'Brien. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 14, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Geoffrey G. O'Brien

Geoffrey G. O'Brien

by this poet

The winter, it was the winter all
the usual things happened,
I have forgotten what
would travel from the north
as a series seen from above
or from below, and the followers,
the flowers, I tore them up
the next summer, or rather
before or immediately after
and thought no more about it.
But then the summer, plans
The experience of leaving
one category for another, 
of smooth being colder
than rough and of
that December I suffer
as the experience of leaving
one category for another,
using life that way
that opens and stops
moving, done,
furtively waving
as with one month
that opens and stops
among the others,
waiting and
Control has been candied and exchanged
So many times it feels like the night 
Of the day, a troubled ride through 
A beginning whose motor announces
It's still the mild guardian 
Of a human bird we don't yet hear.
She needs no protection nor exists
Except as a set of performances,
Notes mistaken for an identity