Poem with Orpheus, by Emily Skillings

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.

By Emily Skillings, from Fort Not, her first book of poetry. The collection was published by The Song Cave in October.

Every word in this poem is a dead body.
Each word dies as you read it
and floats behind in a wooden canoe
that covers itself with itself
to make a coffin. A white, historical plane
knits above the dead word to shroud
and replace it. The poem before (this) point
is streaming and invisible. The rivulets
on which the coffin boats float
move backward forever. That last word (word)
and then (last) (that) (forever) (backward)
(move)—you killed those words.
You actually wrote this poem in its own blood.
The poem was alive just a minute ago
and then you arrived. You walked (here)
sluggishly against the wind of the underworld
to push against each heavy body. I’m trying
to (protect) these (words) (from) you (with)
(special armor). If you view this entire poem
in a mirror you will see death at work
as you see bees behind glass in a hive.
That last line is from Cocteau’s Orphée,
a film in which we come to know
all poems are direct transmissions
from the dead. When I transcribed it I reversed
its screen death and then (you) came
and looked at it, sending it back
to this blank page, a banal trauma,
a repeated rest on nothing.

More from