Annie Finch

Several poems from her latest book
SPELLS: New and Selected Poems



All the things we hide in water
hoping we won't see them go—
(forests growing under water
press against the ones we know)—
and they might have gone on growing
and they might now breathe above
everything I speak of sowing
(everything I try to love).


Once days blew in a pattern, when blue willows
bent where they blew, and bowls filled with birds
and plates arched out from them. Days blew across cups,
and covered the stories on saucers, and then the week came.

It’s morning. Day rises above me,
and my own house, and the door, the tea in the cup
that you sip from, the blue willow china,
till more sun leans over the backs of the chairs—




I think of your quiet grave now and again

When hope or fear has rolled me out of sleep

Close to my husband's side, to lean again

Against his breathing human side, to keep

Myself breathed in his liquid human breath.

I think of your nurturing grave, because your death

Has made you a place I like to imagine going:

Opening the gate to your grave, entering in,

Reaping your silence where a small tree, growing

Generous in the forgiveness of your sin,

Leans over your stone, the grass, your bones, the grass,

The grass. The grass. I like to imagine frost there, hung

Like frost on a beach in November, when the sun

Rises on winter, just as it rose on spring,

On the humid decision to grow, past everything.


Phi Beta Kappa poem, Yale University, 2011

Like an island, a key makes a door. In the surge
Of its mineral clarity, seas come unbound.
Though an arch curves together, the keystone will stay
Braced in gravity, locked by immensity, wound
To a temple in air by the spiraling play
That could tumble much heavier forces. What’s found
Past the musical notes that cascade and converge
In a key, past the tock the tick carries away
When it’s wound by a key? There are patterns that merge
Meanings, silent until we code them open,
Clued to us by the random knowing tribes:
Carvings, letters, hands, faces, symbols, stars.
Each warm friction’s vibration circumscribes
One more seat in the clearing where we are
Gathered, circling a home we can’t describe.
What’s the word but a word that can’t be spoken?
Who’d tear pleasure out past life’s iron bars?
Where’s the use of a code that won’t be broken?
A ring of keys hangs like a question at your side.
You move through the answering darkness like a key,
While windows of moonlight branch down the catacombs
And rustle each prisoner into mystery.
Each lock, like each room, is alone till the opening comes;
Your ring reaches one, then another. Liberty
Repeats down the corridor, doors pulled open wide,
Exploding more showers of sweetness through the combs
Whose locks had been waiting for one key to be tried.



It seemed as if a door came calling,

in a voice as old as carols,

telling lies as old as candles,

in words that were all about

some afternoons, lost on a child,

that could have been simple but

were lost, when I was just a child.

There was a day and then a dream

that I went through, and a cathedral

whose tall choir prayed

a singing message through the nave

until I heard a forest there

(though far outside, the trees were bare)

Copyright © 2013 Annie Finch


Photo by Helen Peppe
Poet, author, translator, editor, and playwright Annie Finch has published more than 20 books and chapbooks of poetry and poetics, including Calendars, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, Among the Goddesses, Eve, The Body of Poetry, A Formal Feeling Comes, An Exaltation of Forms, and her newest book, Spells: New and Selected Poems. Annie’s incantation-like poetry has been featured on Def Poetry Jam, National Public Radio, and Voice of America, and has appeared in leading literary journals including The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Kenyon Review and in anthologies including The Norton Anthology of World Poetry and The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century American Poetry.

To read more about Annie Finch, please visit her website at