It’s our pleasure to welcome Linda Bierds back to Open Books, this evening for a reading from her ninth collection, Roget’s Illusion ($27.95 Putnam). Ms. Bierds, a professor at the University of Washington, is the recipient of many honors, including fellowships from the MacArthur, John Simon Guggenheim, Ingram-Merrill, and Rockefeller foundations, as well as the PEN West Poetry Prize and the Poetry Society of American’s Consuelo Ford Award. As with many of her earlier volumes, this latest awakens history, spinning out (so to speak) from what is known as Roget’s illusion (he of the thesaurus), that is, the perception that a moving wheel when seen through slats appears to be turning backwards or not at all. The following poem is taken from the book and offers a rare glimpse of the poet at her desk—
“The Evening Star”
Full night not yet on the Sound
and far to the west, one brilliant, snow-filled mountain
flares over the water toward me, its quick afterimage
fluttering behind, part peak, part half-transparent moth
skimming the table
and reference books,
stitching together the weathered lines
where Dürer sketches Adam’s ash tree, and Kepler
watches a dead star’s light, and someone
named Smeaton—John—hauls a tallow-fed chandelier
up the lighthouse steps near Plymouth.
Plump, short-winged, retinal burn, pulsing
over the flat-lined past, reviving
the burins and waxy Edens, the breezes and tides,
the twenty-four half-pound chandelier candles
slowly slipping their lighthouse beam
down another century’s hazards.
And then it’s gone,
quick sprinkle of ash dusting a membrane’s rods and cones.
Everything still, again. The sun just down, the past
just words, and the first starlight so pale
on the dusk, I must turn to catch it peripherally.