Verse is honored to share a preview of Ilyse Kusnetz's Angel Bones, out this week from Alice James Books. Of the collection, Mark Doty wrote, "In the face of her cancer diagnosis—'candle-bright spots in the marrow'—Ilyse Kusnetz’s sense of the fragility and impermanence of the world became an inescapable fact. In this second and final collection, the poet tries on every stance she can find toward her own mortality. Sometimes illness is a quotidian fact: 'My hair fell out, I learned to walk again./Before we knew, it was summer...' Sometimes the world she is leaving is radiant: 'wonder at the perfect Hebrew letters/imprinted on a green crab’s back...' What carries Kusnetz through, binding together what could have been the chaos of her last days, is love, the way she is held in her beloved’s care, the way she holds him firmly in her unwavering gaze. Angel Bones is a book of love poems, a testament to the way two lovers held strong until the end, and it leaves its readers more than saddened. We’re strengthened."
Maybe the universe wants to spare me the apocalypse, maybe it wants me to counsel the dead, maybe the cancer finds me so delicious it wants to consume me from the inside out… Oh, trees, flowers, small animals at the bird feeder— cardinal, blue jay, tree mouse, mourning dove, woodpecker, grackle, squirrel— you have all given me such pleasure, a lift of the heart, a sudden intake of breath— it’s what makes us believe in a heaven— even if sorrow lives like a seed inside beauty, because we know, we know it cannot last. And so— here is my blessing to you: May this beauty fill the unexpected vistas of your life. May you be opened by it—to the world, may you open, rare flowers, to each other.
I am what was I talking about something with leaves yesterday, a tree, maybe the fuck I don’t remember how to com- plete that thought if you put knowing where it would help I meant to and if I can’t make meaning narrative minced into what did I already say illegi- bility of the mind’s word, or doors invite gaps, (finish thought)— oh windless tree am I
Sometimes time perches on the invisible throne of rolling metal, the sting of Don’t die. Sometimes time disintegrates into an ocean of timelessness, creating infinite possibility, especially when you’re supposed to go according to the doctor’s prognosis. Sometimes time is like watching whales breach fearless with instinct and practice, as you and I learned to be day by day, moment inside moment— moving toward each other like memory passed one body to another. Call it source code or tachyons, call it what you will. We’ll hear each other, we’ll know.
If time is an illusion. If time is just a way to measure energy, expended. If it curls in a dimension all its own, if a stretch between here and there, past and present. If all the moments of time were sliced so thin, they composed an entire universe. Imagine how after, we’ll choose our scattered narrative, glow of connection in this possible, holographic world, a world into which we reach, far away and near, gathering what we can re- member, wherever we catch our heart’s flame, like sephirot, each recollection a part of who we were—scattered seed for the feeder’s conference of birds— the mourning doves and cardinals, the jays and red-headed woodpeckers diving into seed and fruit—the bright patchwork cushion we bargained from the Grand Bazaar when Turkey still breathed—a free nation— the wild horses on Dartmoor as the wind blew strong, and our hair tangled into curls as we climbed to the top of the Neolithic standing stones to spread our arms wide and capture the sky and stars. We’ll find all our moments, I promise— inside time and out of it, even if time doesn’t really exist—I’ll clasp all the energy your veined, beautiful hands conjured into mine as we walked our path, our synchronous, ambered time, all we shared and took our pleasure in, all we knew as we lived our mortal, time-filled lives. I give it all to you.