Book Extract:
All We Saw
by Anne Michaels

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All We Saw was written to honour intimate friends who died within a short span of time, intimates of more than 30 years, among them the writers John Berger and Mark Strand, my longtime editor Ellen Seligman, my parents…

These poems try to find their relationship with what is beyond language – not only death, but the shared inner life of intentions and ideas, let alone every other kind of intimacy. These poems explore our relationship to mystery; what the body knows in its mortality and what the body might prove.

What language can we have for death? For the unknowable? The last weeks and hours before the imminent death of someone we love is a time both urgent and suspended. No words are restrained enough for that silence or that muteness. It is a time of desire so extreme, language is rendered chaste.

All We Saw asserts that “death must give/not only take from us.” These poems assert not what we hold onto but what we hold.

Somewhere Night Is Falling

Somewhere a man stands outside a church
too bitter to enter, yet bound by doubt to that place

Somewhere a woman fills a glass with clear water
and flowers drink their last moments
in the last light of the fields

Somewhere a child stands next to a wall in the desert

Somewhere there is a house with a portrait of Beethoven
and a child who wonders if it is a picture of her grandfather

Somewhere there is a boy learning to wait

Somewhere, for the sake of his children, a man
writes what he has seen

Somewhere, for the sake of his children, a man
will not write what he has seen

Somewhere there is a son with the memory of a father’s
touch on his back, giving him courage

Somewhere a mother gives courage to thousands of
mourners at her son’s funeral

Somewhere a man measures the dimensions of the prison

Somewhere a woman plants a garden in front of the prison

Somewhere thousands stand where once
the square was empty

Somewhere a cave is lit by a torch

Somewhere there is man who walks beside us, without a
hat, in the rain

Somewhere a man reads a letter and folds it carefully
into his heart

Somewhere a man weeps for what he has found

Somewhere between Paris and London, a man peels an
orange on the train

Somewhere a man waits in a train station with the taste of
coffee on his palate

Somewhere a man waits in a city for a woman who
waits for him

Somewhere a man holds out his hand before we know
we need it

Somewhere there is a room lit only by a painting
as night falls

Somewhere there is a man who is not afraid to live in a
woman’s hope

Somewhere there is a man who has not forgotten anything
and has written it down

Somewhere there is someone so close to you, there are no

Somewhere a woman’s gift has not been deepened but
corrupted by loss

Somewhere there is a man who has given away everything
and stands in the rain, grateful

Somewhere the dead are leaving a sign

Somewhere there is a man who meets his late mother
in Lisbon

Somewhere a man makes soup for the village

Somewhere a man tells a woman she is not
as alone as she thinks and she understands
she is precisely as alone

Somewhere a man remembers a blue shirt left behind
forty years before

Somewhere a man inscribes the back of a photograph
and dates it twenty years before either of them
were born

Somewhere there is a painter carrying a spare egg

Somewhere there is a man driving away from
the marketplace with cages of unsold chicks
in the back seat of his Peugeot

Somewhere a woman stops for petrol, thousands of white
origami birds pressed against the car windows

Somewhere on the shoulder of the highway, not long
before he dies, a man opens the hatch of his truck and
shows a woman his paintings, all imaginings of her body,
how her skin feels against his mind

Somewhere a woman wakes in the night and knows
no one will ever write a poem for her

Somewhere a man answers courage with courage

Somewhere a man fights for nothing

Somewhere a man digs his own grave in the forest and waits

Somewhere a man builds the room where his child
will be conceived

Somewhere a man and a woman leave a note in the rafters

Somewhere a man and a woman leave the threat
outside the door in order to defeat it

Somewhere a man wonders how many thousands of years
men have lain with a woman
just this way

Somewhere a woman slips off her scarf without untying
the knot at her nape

Somewhere a man writes of that scarf
and the fist of the knot against his back

Somewhere rain is falling

Somewhere a man is repairing the night, one word at a time

Somewhere a man sends a message “spoken
before hands ever wrote”

Somewhere night is falling

All We Saw published by Bloomsbury (£16.99) is out nowAnne Michaels appears at Manchester Literature Festival, 10 Oct. Big Issue North is proud media partner to the festival

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Interact: Responses to Book Extract:
All We Saw
by Anne Michaels

  • heather
    22 Oct 2017 11:40
    I read "All We Saw" aloud. I loved the gentle, repetitive rhythm and the way it played in my imagination like a film of each of these stanzas. It felt sad and yet soothing. Thank you for making this available.

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