The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

All Issues
MAY 2023 Issue

They Go Down to the Field

for PLW


“Without a book,”
“by unseen means,”
a writing moves in the shadows.

Thieves, who leave the world “without a book,”
will come back one day, “by unseen means.”

They are shadows of our speaking,
dark letters of the mind
in the world that claims a single shining.

Somewhere, hands hold a face that cries,
a book hides in the white flames also.
This is true.

Someone gives us a shadow in the morning.
Someone takes it back in the evening.

“Without a book,”
we dance down to the field at evening.

We eat the light. What we do is not reading.

“By unseen means,”
she destroys the mask before morning,
and masks are all we see.

The field descends in a silence we can see. And the field and the image of the field are destroyed.
The field is a page, not blank, but in which everything remains unstated. Scarecrows, all around us,
spooks of writing! Creepy, hooded stenographers fly through the field of fair folk downwind of the
lightning. They transcribe the books of birds. Books of thunder they will not copy down by evening,
and by morning their right hand forgets its skill. Look, they are coming from all directions.

These are the sleepers who sail the sea.
This sugar flashes in the fruit.
Lightning steers all things.

The friends of the dream
are birds in a dream,
in the morning no more.

What the metels bymeneth
I dare not say.

There are men all around you reading you their way, breaking stones and eating books, untroubled
by the taste. In the fields of war, winged creatures are watching you all day. They may not be birds,
maybe many glad folk leaping off the mountains, moving and leaping bodies of stone… leaping into
crevices in stone…

But maybe many are under the mountain also, led there by a man under the darkness of writing. It’s
Trastevere. He’s a thief. It’s always across the river. He carries a book that is not writing. A book or a
body, his own or another’s, we will not know till morning. And even then, if we know, it will be by
other means than seeing. By an unmastered art of touching, those in the field make the field stand
up in bodies.

Bodies without books,
greeting the snakes of morning--
they eat apples unroasted
with Eve in the evening.

By unseen means, the sweetest smell enters the garden.

It is a place with no law,
its walls of wind, its roof of stars.


Each gesture, each stirring,
as if it were today,
each word, each going,
you remember, and how you came here,
leaping over three fires in a row,
real water from the laurel
sprinkled on your brow.
You did not grudge to take poppy
pounded with snowy milk,
nor honey slowly squeezed
from out the comb.

In the pleasant shade from a May sun
that the great trees gave us,
even the late words
accomplished the full play of their nature,
and secrets of the law
flashed close to our freedom.

The Book of the Heart, it is not revealed in this kingdom. But it remembers all pleasing things, the
bush, first of all, of lilacs at the end of our season, climbing over the fence, too late to smell. But
there you were at the table, seeing it beyond appearance, insisting that it was there and there were
flowers still, asking that a cluster be brought to you. And at first you cannot smell it, and again it
withholds from you when you press it to your nose, and a third time it denies you. Then, you crush
it in your fingers and take it in, whatever rushes out of the flower you take it in.

Death! You are a scandal,
a rock on which the living stumble.

In the night-camp, in the movements of the fire,
I see your face without shadow,
a shining book beyond reading.


Joel Newberger

Joel Newberger is the author of Under the Window, Hexateuch, and A Caw. He edits The Swan, a series of free pamphlets devoted to the oldnew songs of the poets. He works and lives in Kingston, NY. Ad fontes. 


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

All Issues