“Tennessee June,” by Jorie Graham

Tennessee June

This is the heat that seeks the flaw in everything
and loves the flaw.
Nothing is heavier than its spirit,
nothing more landlocked than the body within it.
Its daylilies grow overnight, our lawns
bare, then falsely gay, then bare again. Imagine
your mind wandering without its logic,
your body the sides of a riverbed giving in . . .
In it, no world can survive
having more than its neighbors;
in it, the pressure to become forever less is the pressure
to take forevermore
to get there. Oh

let it touch you . . .
The porch is sharply lit — little box of the body —
and the hammock swings out easily over its edge.
Beyond, the hot ferns bed, and fireflies gauze
the fat tobacco slums,
the crickets boring holes into the heat the crickets fill.
Rock out into that dark and back to where
the blind moths circle, circle,
back and forth from the bone-white house to the creepers unbraiding.
Nothing will catch you.
Nothing will let you go.
We call it blossoming —
the spirit breaks from you and you remain.


From Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts (Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets 2011), available for order here.


Jorie Graham was born in New York City and raised in Rome. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate to study filmmaking, then received an MFA in Poetry from the University of Iowa. Graham is the author of several books of poetry, all from Ecco Press: Fast: Poems (2017), From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 (2015), Place: New Poems (2012), Sea Change (2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994 (1997), which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

About her poems, critic James Longenbach writes that “[f]or 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption—intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic—rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.”

Graham has also edited two anthologies: Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (Ecco 1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990 (Scribner 1990). Her many honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003. In 2017, she received the Wallace Stevens Award. She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. [Source here]


Start the conversation

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