Brian Culhane

Brian Culhane

Brian Culhane’s poems have appeared in such journals as The New Criterion, The Hudson Review, The New Republic, Chelsea, Boulevard, Slate, and The Massachusetts Review.

He holds degrees from the City University of New York, Columbia University, and the University of Washington. His first book, The King’s Question (Graywolf Press, 2007) received the Emily Dickinson Award from The Poetry Foundation. He has held writing fellowships from The Artist Trust and the MacDowell Colony.

Brian Culhane:

History of the Mediterranean

Not as Braudel did it, the hegemonies
Of trade and the grand sweep. Nor yet
As those three-walled frescoes studded
With the sweat of innumerable angels.
I mean the gravity of feeling
Whose small wave without acclaim scatters
Redolent sand. Or a cheap hotel lobby:
Widow and son talking beside a pillar
Of no particular importance
But that their marvelous lives lend.
Luxury bereft of years’ weight, no
Chiseled imprimatur, marble freed
From the centurion’s implacable shadow.

So, the day’s gauntlet thrown, stand
On this Tuscan hill and watch as noon
Ripples the flax of distant homes.
In ahistorical sunlight we murmur,
Repeating the ever-to-be-repeated.
Pull your dress off and find the wind.

       (first published in Antaeus)


It remains to be seen if I lose my way
In a meadow somewhere beyond today
In a season foretold, perhaps, in a future
Whose accent is a footfall on dry leaves
Or the murmur of a sibyl beside a stream
That sharply flows into the cave mouth,
Into undergrowth none walks out of.
That is one story. There are a few others
Illustrated by Doré: the ancient wood
That one moment’s false step will prove
Permanent and unrecognizably pathless:
The forest known in retrospect as Error,
Whose root lies tangled in wandering.
Once upon a time to fall fully awake
And descend to a height. The journey starts
At the omphalos lip, the navel ring
Where the blackened stone circle charms
The wayward into mounting slowly down
Granite steps, past the silenced Geryon,
Deeper and deeper yet, until one thrust
And there’s starlight, hearing a highway’s
Whine, a factory whistle, a far siren
Calling you out of brambles and stone
Only to find the hillside started from:
Your fabled self, lying there error prone.

       (first published in The Paris Review)

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Poetry in this post: © Brian Culhane
Published with the permission of Brian Culhane