Friday, November 18, 2011


In telling the time, we commonly refer to hours that differ by a multiple of 12 using the same number. Sixty hours after 3 o'clock it is again 3 o'clock. The clock relationship -- with its times that are named by the same number but are not, after all, exactly the same -- illustrates the mathematical notion of an "equivalence relation." In "Equivalencies," the insights of poet Judith McCombs stretch this mathematical concept.

Equivalencies     by Judith McCombs

The fear of not writing, of having no words,

Is the muscles not working, the pack top-heavy,
the hard slime on ledges where the ankle gives way

is the sledge hammer current at the bottom of waves
coming too fast and the swimmer unable

is the baby hung up in the birth canal,
the contractions building but its heartbeat stalls

is the hemorrhage of vision with nothing made yours,
is the flicker of brain waves in the same stuck dream.

The writing is easy, the having is easy,

is the meadows opening, is the blessed deep breath
in the mouth of the runner, is the long easy strides

riding and passing the crests of the earth,
is the surge of delivery, the new being riding

the pulsing red channel, is the mountains riding
the slower upheavals of strata and drift,

is the white surge riding the hull of the seed
as it breaks into life, the shapes spilling over

and the words coming through, the deep dream opening
and the words coming true, the words
                                                      coming through.

"Equivalencies" appears in McCombs' collection The Habit of Fire:  Poems Selected and New (Word Works, 2005).

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