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Stephen Cramer


The sound of a tree

growing in fast forward—

a hundred

years in thirty

seconds—is a brief

recital of rasp

& squeak & groan,

the sound of sheath

after added sheath.

It sounds like ice

breaking up

in the spring. It sounds

like an avalanche. Try

to hear the same

of the entire woods,

then of the continent,

then of the world.

Try to be deafened

by life. I want

to be able to hear

in thirty seconds

all the decades

of my own heart

beating, a rattle

that grows louder

then quickly subsides.

I want to hear

the sprouting

of leaves in the spring,

their crackling

in the fall, all of it

so thunderous

you can’t distinguish

the loss

of any one thing.


My breath swirling

the room like

a pollen-drunk bee,

I let the air

slip out

in as slow

a stream as possible,

because that helps

me understand

strength. I’ve yelled

& slammed my fist

in my palm,

so I already know

what weakness is.

You can spend

all afternoon

trying to figure out

what version of collapse

wants you more

than all the others.

Let us learn

the way cries

inherit our breath,

the way 1,000

facets of song

can inhabit

the mouth.


This body is a container

for a certain number

of breaths, a certain

number of kisses.

The horizon of your skin

makes gravity a myth,

releases every trace

of music stored

in my muscles.

One day all my thoughts

will narrow to those

I had in the womb,

the world’s vast

nomenclature stripped

down to basic

human need.

I know it’s probably

written on air, but

somewhere there’s a ledger

that tells us

how much of our breath

we’ve given to dispute,

how much to song.

Remind me again

how not to be

a howl on a string.


Stephen Cramer’s first book of poems, Shiva’s Drum, was selected for the National Poetry Series and published by University of Illinois Press. Bone Music, his sixth, won the Louise Bogan Award. His most recent is The Disintegration Loops, which was a finalist for the Vermont Book Award. He is also the editor of Turn It Up! Music in Poetry from Jazz to Hip-Hop. Cramer’s work has appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, African American Review, The Yale Review, and Harvard Review. An assistant poetry editor at Green Mountains Review, he teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont and lives with his wife and daughter in Burlington.


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