from Correspondences

by Anne Michaels

Sometimes we are led through the doorway
by a child, sometimes
by a stranger, always a matter of grace changing
the past, for if there is anything we must change
it is the past. To look back
and see another map.

Love enough to fill
a shoe, a suitcase, a bit of ink,
a painting, a child’s eyes at a chalkboard,
a bit of chalk, a bit of
bone in ash.

All that is cupped,
all that is emptied

the rush of water from a pump,
a word spelled out
on a palm.

Notes on the Poem

This section of Anne Michael's book-length poem Correspondences - a unique collaboration with artist Bernice Eisenstein melded with imaginative physical book design - echoes the book's singular construction, which allows and invites you to read it quite literally in different directions. Let's revisit and consider it again. There is a clue in the first few lines of this fragment that points to how to approach the meaning of it anew once you've reached the end. In general terms, you might not agree philosophically with the exhortation "if there is anything we must change it is the past" but you can't help but be intrigued by the suggestion of "To look back and see another map." A plainly stated but striking series of images culminates in "the rush of water from a pump, a word spelled out on a palm." That last image references the revelatory moment when young Helen Keller, deaf and blind from an early age, comprehended that her teacher was communicating the word "water" to her, and made the connection to what she was feeling and experiencing. With the simple phrase "the rush of water from a pump", Michaels captures the thrill of that moment. And then you are reminded to "look back / and see another map" ... do the preceding lines now carry different meanings and weight, perhaps? Implicit and explicit encouragements abound throughout "Correspondences" to read it forwards, backwards, from different points inward and outward. It's even suggested by the lines inscribed on the very book cover boards: "not two to make one, but two to make the third, just as a conversation can become the third side of the page"

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