My Nature


You gave me your wildest no.
Thank you, I said.
I will keep it forever.
I will put it in a little box
and carry it across rivers
on top of my head
at daybreak.

I will bury it and dig it up
Bury it and dig it up.
Take it for a walk on the path
ignoring the rolling of eyes.

I had big plans for your no.
But it was so wild
I had to tame it first.
I said no to the no.
I told it to go to its room
or else.

Where it grew into a wilderness
which threatened to kill me
if I didn’t enter it.
In this wilderness
the only defense
was defenselessness.

Go to your room, it said, or else.
So I went.
And found many rooms.
Every form of death
to lie down in and get up from—

At first I felt sorry for my name.
How it was always drowning
in your mouth. Code for
“I’m going under.”

Then I realized I could always try
to have you. And that
could be a joke between us.

Isn’t it always funny
to see a knight visor-down
swiping at trees in a wood
shaggy hemlocks in the tart air?

(What a fool—)
and yet it seems wise
to align oneself with no.
The word that will survive
all other words.

When I say it I get
a strong sense of déjà vu.
As if I am flowering in a copse.
Or have already become
the leaves some knight
is now slicing through.

I imagine myself alone
but in pieces. Companionable.
Golden flakes shuttering
all the way to the ground.
Not lonely at all.

What I could do with your no.
It is a gift so precious
so precious, I cannot accept it.

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Click here to read Tanya Larkin on the origin of the poem.

Image: “Golden Hour” by Sean Riley, licensed under CC 2.0.

Tanya Larkin:
In the fall, I wrote a series of unrequited love poems to wear out a love or come to understand why I couldn’t. I started with a compound “no” on the part of the unrequited love. Then I couldn’t get a Dickinson quote out of my head and knew I had to address it no matter in this context. “No,” she says, “is the wildest word we consign to Language” in letter 562. I started with a catalog of what I would do with the “no”—sew it into the hem of dress, bathe it, groom it like a pedigreed pet, make it walk upright with a ball on its nose; I drove a thousand golf ball “no’s.” I eschewed all of these possibilities because they were too cute and didn’t express my emotional predicament. The poem had to be more ceremonious and intentional—I was not sleeping—I felt like I was literally dying from the “no,” and so the poem had to have that sort of pitch if I was ever going to find my way out of my obsessive thinking. In the course of the cataloging, I was given the ending and that set the tone I more or less kept while leaving an opening for playfulness, or hysteria, depending on how you read it. In a lyric poem, I always have to figure out how I am talking to myself before going on. (The reference to the “path” in the poem is a reference to “The Path,” a much longer lyric essay-poem on The Critical Flame.)


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