Contributor’s Marginalia: Shara Lessley on 32 Poems 13.2

It’s always a little sad when the latest round of our marginalia series concludes and we finally put an issue to bed, but this week’s entry offers a particularly lovely way to say goodbye. Here, Shara Lessley gives us a cento composed of language she’s mined from 32 Poems 13.2, a poem in which you’ll hear Diane Suess, Hailey Leithauser, Bruce Bond, Michael Bazzett, Claudia Emerson, and full dozen others all singing in chorus. (*You can find the complete listing of Shara’s sources after poem.)

We hope you enjoy this last bit of marginalia from 13.2, and that this will send you back into the issue one more time before the new 32 Poems tries to replace it.

Reflection in the High Varnish of a Little White Lie: A Cento

The moon has slipped off her slip, the night
let sail his ship. On an unknown rain-darkened
street in a cathedral in a part of the city where
the Old World dreams of a long, calm sea

the saints’ bodies, even after a hundred years
dredge up the past beneath the trail
to emphasize their casual nakedness.
Is it enough to love the world again,

the heavens? Nothing will happen tonight
and still this ache, this barometer
the waters hold. The steady slope of the ocean
terminates its crisp folds, its fragile case, its ink

as though windblown, or gravity-blown, something
like keys on the dresser of a dark room—where
matter and energy are pulling us through.
It’s like how time moves. Birds, pockets of air.

Not at all, then all at once. We first emerge,
we emerge first from a belly-deep abyss:
the tide moves under us and egrets lift
and we quit holding our tongues and begin to sing.

At this point in our lives we expect to be more.
The waters hold a clear and cold account untold
of storms and stress and whatever bluster
it swells to paralyze the damage, or try.

Nothing will happen tonight. Above the beach
breathing white and insomniac the spindle-legged
plovers forage. One glints as a band of light
moves, dreams of a long, calm sea

in the end. The tide moves under us. We both—
jailer and jailed alike—see the boat
launched from the shore set aflame.

[32 Poems, Volume 13, Number 2, Fall/Winter 2015. Sources: Seuss, Leithauser, Bazzett, Rancourt, Minicucci, Rancourt, Piazza, Arthur, Emerson, Bazzett, Bond, Mann, Kroll, Falk, Emerson, Fagan, Givhan, Kroll, Dentz, Kroll, Majmudar, Hemp, Bazzett, Fagan, Mann, Bond, Bazzett, Kroll, Fagan, Seuss, Minicucci, Hemp, Minicucci. Some capitalization and punctuation has been changed.]

Shara Lessley, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, is the author of Two-Headed Nightingale (New Issues, 2012). Her awards include a 2015 NEA Fellowship, the Mary Wood Fellowship from Washington College, an Artist Fellowship from the State of North Carolina, the Diane Middebrook Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin, Colgate University’s O’Connor Fellowship, The Gilman School’s Tickner Fellowship, and a “Discovery”/The Nation prize. Shara’s work has appeared in Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Gettysburg Review, and New England Review, among others. She is currently editing an anthology of essays on poetry and place with the poet Bruce Snider and can be reached at


On Being Alone Together

April 11, 2016

Contributor’s Marginalia: Michael Bazzett on “Faith” by Jacques Rancourt

Sometimes I walk into the cool dark of a chapel and I can almost smell God. Or my memory of what it felt like to believe. Perhaps it’s the same thing. I don’t know. But I like to spend time in the asking, and this where Jacques Rancourt’s “Faith” took me, with its elegant questions: into a resonant space for wonder.

The poem is a tiny cathedral in itself. Framed in symmetries both large and small, I enter and sense that I am in good hands. Eight couplets. Eight questions. Yet not one query deigns to become a perfect couplet, and only the first and last lines allow the question mark to reside in its customary home. Instead, the propulsive enjambment of the poem sends its syntax flowing through its architecture, a tumbling waterfall of asking.

This perfectly-imperfect coupling speaks of a yearning for union, and is underscored by the preponderance of pairs echoing throughout the poem: in the “two walls;” in the alliterative doubling of “canes and crutches,” “remain in rafters,” and “peeling plaster;” in how the “healed” and “hum” hold line six in their embrace; in both the “how longs?” of the sixth stanza and the paired “bodies” of the seventh; and in the evocation of the “Old Word” and “the New,” (or the “crippled” and the “crooked”), as they reach hands toward one another across the blank chasm of the stanza break.

In the end, I don’t know if I can tell the difference between roses and onions, between prayer and poetry. How much of poetry is the simple hope that someone might be listening at 3 o’clock in the morning? How much of prayer is that luminous moment when we find the right word to hold the inner heat of our desires? It seems we eavesdrop on our hearts in both, as it asks questions in the dark.

In addition to 32 Poems, Michael Bazzett’s work has appeared in Ploughshares, Massachusetts Review, Oxford Poetry, The Sun, and Best New Poets. He is the author of the chapbook The Imaginary City (Organic Weapon Arts, 2012). His debut collection, You Must Remember This, (Milkweed Editions, 2014) won the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection at The Rumpus. His verse translation of the Mayan creation epic, The Popol Vuh, is forthcoming from Milkweed in 2017. You can visit him at


Intimate Solitariness

March 28, 2016

Contributor’s Marginalia: Shira Dentz on “Wild the Sea” and “Out of the Sea” by Aaron Krol While reading Aaron Krol’s poems in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of 32 Poems, I felt Elizabeth Bishop’s influence in their concrete objective description/images, and perhaps too in their evocation of a sea landscape. I was with the poems as they unravelled—feeling their sensations. […]

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The Tune of It

March 21, 2016

Contributor’s Marginalia: Chrsitine Hemp responds to Hailey Leithauser’s “Short, Sweet” with words and music The Tune of It [Audio clip: view full post to listen] Short, Sweet slips down the sheet of white space like notes                           rising dropping then   sounds abound       repeat                trippingly seeingly upon the ear slant rhyme cambering the iamb          (lifting)          […]

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Everything is Good

March 7, 2016

Contributor’s Marginalia: James Arthur on “Stroll the Venice Canals” by Jessica Piazza “Stroll the Venice Canals” immediately caught my attention with its confident first line: “A simulacrum of a copy of a Saturday …” That dry double remove (“a simulacrum of a copy”) makes it clear that the poet has an analytical sensibility, but there’s also something luxurious, even […]

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