Issue 3 – Winter 2002 – Noah Eli Gordon

Noah Eli Gordon


black box song

     Something starts the shadow of a cross 
becoming light or latter light, 
     though lately we could say equidistant.

Motion across a field
     meant to indicate a plane, 
meaning’s arrival from air to object.

     The finite stasis, an objection 
struck from the record—the unearthed recording. 
     Dustless. A lens. Unspooled magnetic tape.

One speaks & the words struggle 
     to lay beneath each other, 
resin of speech, radio waves.

     From wheel to wheel the reels 
reconstruct bronze baby shoes 
     for the tongue & lastly, its translation:

worker in another sense meaning soldier. 
     Between the what-we-meant-to-say 
& the envelope’s anticipatory hue,

     shop, set up as a sort of slogan, 
a black lung & the notion of breath. 
     What started as shadow

opening to an empty field. 
     One says wound meaning warning 
& the sirens sound no different from the noise.


nyabingi villanelle

The city arcs inward toward itself. Eventually 
it hangs like a sleeve or empty sack— 
a frame run through with the weight of its own debris, 
smoke shaped like a cup 
or the outline of lips.

If you trace the word city in dust 
they will bring buckets to the sea.

The city, ablaze.

Smoke then can be shaped like a cup 
or a womb.


One could complain of an emptiness about the throat, 
the word city traced in dust.

At the reins, columns of ash—tugging; 
each letter, wrapped as though in a damp cloth.

Smoke can resemble a page, 
fill the margins of the city 
& leave no ruins, 
no trace: the city, in dust.

One could go a lifetime without revision.

One word borders another like 
smoke shaping the city. 
The city, traced in dust.


The city’s lost face. Streets, gone empty 
& there is only the idea of turning back.

The city arcs inward toward itself. Eventually, 
each letter takes to the wind.

The city, emptying its womb 
& the sound of boots echoing through the streets.

Certain phrases, already flammable: 
heartbeat—the cornered field of a word in the book.

One could wrap each letter in a damp cloth, 
move deeper into the woods.

Though surrounded by trees, the city is open 
& boot soles echo through the now empty streets.


Not force but ritual—
you hold a pencil in your right hand.

Each letter wrapped in a damp cloth 
& the sound of jackals from the open window, 
open like the city 
& the soles of boots. Echoing through the streets, 
a shovel on a pile of stones. 
How much dirt to bury the dictionary:

each letter, wrapped in the smoke 
& boot soles of dust.


Smoke hung over the city as they neared the sea.

The city was a shadow receding, burnt black, 
a frame run through, awaiting its own debris.

The capital like a hand outstretched 
& the city—open. In the open city, 
they’ve practiced pounding nails, 
lowering the sound to a whisper.

The clouds, preparing to 
stretch out across the capital.

A breeze easing under the door 
flips the calendar’s page.

One could construct a building without nails 
or a sentence completely of stone.


Ash gathers under the tongue 
stretching like a cap, toll or handout.

The rations have lasted for twelve days 
& still the city is ablaze with 
the sound of hammers & rope.

Tracks lead back to the sea 
where the clouds are preparing a soft rain.

Though they have removed the capital 
& all punctuation, your pencil remains a nail.


Borders were crossed. One spoke of being free 
from the expansion, how the stars contract.

The city arcs inward toward itself, 
gathering ash. Under the tongue, 
even smoke settles into dust.

You need only imagine a door, 
consult the book.

The story, an heirloom 
passed like ash on the tongue.


Never having left the capital, 
aware of borders, 
one need only imagine movement 
& the way light thickens like 
a body tucked inside the city— 
a severed tongue. Under ash, 
a street whose name goes 
unremembered, useless as an old calendar.

You need only imagine the passing 
of each day as a ring, each word as a needle.

They’ve practiced building in silence.

Their tongues, abandoned. 
Their doors, turned to ash.


the birds too will leave. There may be 
a feather, an idol or a mirror’s hairline crack— 
a frame, run through. Within the wait—its own debris 
rising—the city, like a scattering of bones, 
a slogan turned toward the architecture of a match.

They have traced each river to its source.

Some root in soil, stone or flame. 
Some resemble a pillar of salt.

Each bone contains the city, 
an emptiness about the throat 
& the lack of proper rations.


In tracing each river to its source 
they were led deeper into the woods.

There was a slight echo like that of hammers 
rising outward from the city.

Stones under their tongues 
& flour sacks filled, 
they searched the dry riverbed for bones.

The distance between dust & ash, an echo 
resounding through the capital:

you need only imagine the city, it’s bones 
drying in the riverbed; its heart, a boot.



Noah Eli Gordon’s work has appeared or is forthcoming from Hambone, American Letters & Commentary, Word for Word, Verse, jubilat, Columbia Poetry Review, 3rdbed, The Styles and 580 Split. He is a finalist for the current National Poetry Series and is one of seven editors for the new literary magazine, Baffling Combustions.