Diane Thiel

Diane Thiel

Diane Thiel is the author of eight books of poetry, nonfiction and creative writing pedagogy: Echolocations (Nicholas Roerich Prize), Resistance Fantasies, The White Horse: A Colombian Journey, Writing Your Rhythm, Crossroads: Creative Writing Exercises in Four Genres, Open Roads: Exercises in Writing Poetry, Winding Roads: Exercises in Writing Creative Nonfiction, and Cleft in the Wall (chapbook). Thiel’s co-translation (with her husband, Costa Hadjilambrinos) of Alexis Stamatis’s novel, American Fugue (a translation that received a 2007 NEA International Literature Award) appeared in 2008.

Her work appears in many journals including Poetry, The Hudson Review, The Sewanee Review, Best American Poetry 1999, is re-printed in over 50 major anthologies, and has been translated widely. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Brown University. Thiel has translated from Greek, Spanish, German, and French. A recipient of numerous awards including the Robert Frost and Robinson Jeffers Awards, and a Fulbright Scholar, she is Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico. She will be a Writer-in-Residence at Sewanee: University of the South for 2009-2010.

For more information, please visit her webpage: www.dianethiel.net

Recovering the Lost

Some things might best survive by being lost
or stolen, hidden, sunk beneath the waves—
for years preserved, tucked deep inside a chest,

perhaps. Our art sometimes escaped the past
by being shipwrecked early—to one day
be found, having survived for being lost.

Karyátides—stone women used as posts—
for years held up Acropolis like slaves.
The stolen one preserved—her face and chest’s

carvings still clear. Her sisters’ features almost
disappeared, worn away by industrial rain.
Minoan island city-states survived, though lost,

covered by ash which turned the towns to ghosts,
but left each house intact—forgotten ways
for years preserved inside the Earth’s deep chest.

Years later by that sea, a child will cast
and sink her dreams like stones—she’s told they weigh
too much to keep. Will they survive those lost
long years, preserved, tucked deep inside her chest?

Sewanee Review, 2007


(A Photograph, 1930)

I know, in that moment caught, how she was fleeing—
her face eternally still, her body taut,
training every tendril of her being,
holding her in place—the raised knot

of her face eternally still, her body taught
by years of silence, that straight upper lip
holding her in place—the raised knot
of an old laurel tree, the tightening grip

of years of silence—that straight upper lip
we remember so much from the past. Poised, she stands
like an old laurel tree—the tightening grip
of that long summer falling like earth through her hands.

We remember so much from the past. Posed, she stands
by that field where she fell, her face in the hot grain
of that long summer, falling to Earth with her hands.
She would grind by stone and eat the seeds again

by that field where she fell, her face in the hot grain,
her mouth still. Closed. No one would see the swell
she would grind by stone—and eat the seeds again
that next Sunday at the cool garden table.

Her mouth still closed. No one would see the swell,
training every tendril of her being,
that next Sunday, at the cool garden table.
I know, in that moment caught, how she was fleeing.

Resistance Fantasies, 2004

Tomb of Persephone

(Vergina, Greece)

I see her here, that desolate girl who spends
half her days in that body beneath the earth.

She’d go anywhere with anyone,
find herself in a tomb on the other side of the world,

drink herself into a place of no return.
She’d like to say she traveled for adventure,

but really she was looking to erase his hands,
erase his voice, erase that night.

Does tasting fear condemn a part of our lives
to the underworld we help create? I understand

the abduction frozen in time, that one moment
becoming the one that memory chooses to entomb.

Forever now, her friend Kyane crouching beneath her,
numb with fear. Her mouth rubbed out from years

beneath the ground. Her hand raised in defense,
that central wheel turning beyond their control, the image

grown huge – not even all the years entombed
can fade his features, drawn in short sharp strokes,

the wheel’s spokes spinning round like blades.

Resistance Fantasies, 2004

Lost in Translation

My childhood was filled with untranslatable points
of view—the way the child came under the wheels,
Das Kind kam unter die Räder.

When the child was run over,
it was her fault. Did it have something to do
with the order of things? Children

are disorder—they run under wheels
like lizards. Even the signs on the trains
as we traveled through my father’s country

reminded us how much was
expressly verboten (forbidden),
how much our tongues divide us.

What was not my mother’s cup of tea
was not my father’s beer.
Das ist nicht mein Bier, he’d always say.

Traveling into each new lexicon
is to inhabit a new country,
map its pathways into the mind

Every language a labyrinth, weaving
more than words, but a cultural Psyche,
sorting the grains in the syntax.

In Russia, they lock the doors
not to let thieves in,
while America keeps thieves out.

In Colombia I learned that fear
doesn’t ride on a burro—El miedo
no anda en burro
. Fear hath wings

and the reason given for so many things
is por sus pistolas—for your pistols
(just because).

Pushing through a thick net of language
all my life, trying to find some way out
from under the wheels

Always on the shore of another culture
even in this ancient bond—marriage
searching for the words I’d need

to make my way in that new country,
only to be told that there simply is
no word in Greek for privacy.

Only secrecy. Or loneliness.

Resistance Fantasies, 2004

Immortal Gossip

I should have known. You too?
What line, what mask did he use with you?

With me, he came in like a swan,
but I laid some bad eggs with that one.

I found myself with a snake
on my tail, his jealous wife’s work.

He was a horny goat to be sure.
But I’ve always had a weakness for satyrs.

Poor Semele. She wasn’t so lucky.
Literally burned up by his intensity.

And Io, you know, forever the wanderer.
He turned her into such a heifer.

All of Europa turned bovine—it seemed
when he came on like a bull in the Aegean.

Yeah, after I got caught up with that prince,
I’ve been a bear to all men ever since.

With me, would you believe it was the rain?
Held my face to the sky to take it in.

Well, what can you do—beware
of every swan, or bull, or sudden mist?

When he comes to you in a shower
of much-needed rain, how can you resist?

Resistance Fantasies, 2004


(for JFK Jr. 1960-1999)

Aegina – waking to the news on the radio
in Greek, so fast all I hear is your name
again and again – that terrible tone.
The long day’s pause – awaiting confirmation.
How could we not collectively think
of a curse on your house? On Greek TV,
I see the photos of your childhood
framed by your father’s desk and casket.
Across the ocean, Peruvians submerge
the pictures in the river to cleanse your name.
You seemed to be emerging from the hollows
of this century, somehow unscathed – Still,
you sought the skies’ escape, like Icarus,
Phaethon, so many legendary children.
It was the legacy you couldn’t trade
that brought you everything too early on –
a changeling sent at three into the sun.

Echolocations, 2000

Event Horizons


It may take one
tiny hollowed skeleton
on the stoop below –
for the eyes to rise and see
the swallows nesting
beneath the window.


In a small boat, the world
becomes big and wild again.
The weather is more than words,

but what you live your life by –
that loneliness you can touch
like a smooth tree you know,

but don’t know the name of.

Event Horizons

In the horizon surrounding a black hole,
the light trapped from the birth of the sun
goes round again the boundary circle –
history returning, ad infinitum.


Why do we want to go
to the rim of that volcano
that spelled oblivion –
to lift her layered, dark hem
and touch the city lost again
beneath a wine-dark ocean?

Echolocations, 2000


If she was recognized, she turned herself
into a tree, grew stories from her fingertips,
shook them off like leaves in the wind.
Or she held them heavy, offered the fruit
for a new life – within inches, or miles,

if the right bird was there at the right time.

Her trees traveled in the bellies of birds,
flew great distances, allowed circumstance
of wind, of rain, of flight, of seasons, storms
to do the planting, place them in the ground,
in the dark soil of her ancestors.

Echolocations, 2000

History’s Stories

For her song and flight, Echo is torn apart,  art
flung limb by singing limb. Each valley swallows,  allows
her voice. In another tale, a flame enchants  chance
encounters – Narcissus, who never returns,  turns
her love to stone. Rocks, caves, dens, the hollow  hollow
of bones become her home – the old echoes,  O’s
that round our inner lives like the concentric  trick
rings inside trees, reverberate for years,  our ears
Our voices rise and leave, traveling,  raveling,  veiling
currents across the sea, longing to reach  each
Atlantis, locate shapes that sounds recall –  call
back the world, as it was first encountered,  heard.

Echolocations, 2000


A geologic second passed.
We waged a hundred thousand wars,
believing each to be the last –
our geologic second passed.

A new millennium – at last,
and deep within the planet’s core,
another millisecond passed.
We wage a hundred thousand more.

Echolocations, 2000

Elegaic Labors

First, you might have to assemble a motley assortment of figures—
cattle, a three-headed dog, apples, some man-eating mares.

Draw on your childhood survival. Abandoned on some distant mountain.
Raised on the milk of a bear. Ambushed by snakes in your crib.

Harness a fire-breathing bull and then sow that red earth with a dragon’s
teeth. Keep an eye on your crop. You may not like what you reap.

Chained to a rock for the sake of that fire—or perhaps you’ll be asked to
hold up the sky for a while. Roll that old stone up the hill.

Meanwhile, begin to re-think your approach. Re-direct all the rivers.
Wash out the eons of dung. Clean the old stable of thoughts.

Patiently search for that word that will bound one idea to the next, deer-
like, and will keep it alive. This should take only a year.

Study the pulse of the ocean to learn how to navigate clashing
rocks, how they open and pause—just long enough to slip through.

Gather your crew from the ranks of assorted renditions and centuries.
Travel together a while. Wrinkle the time-line a little.

Then there’s the riddle you have to both answer and leave an enigma.
Weigh every tone on the scale. Scale every word to the bone.

Still, you might weave and unweave the same shroud on the loom for a lifetime.
Watch the horizon for sails. Wait for the Muse to return.

Or you might spend half your life in the underworld, sorting the words like
myriads of kernels of grain. Just to start over again.

Here is the passage. Around every turn of this labyrinth lurks doubt.
Now, in just five measured feet—carefully weave your way out.

Resistance Fantasies, 2004

A Knife

I always carry, tight on my belt,
a small African knife I’ve had for years—
the kind that are commonly seen in the North,
which I bought from an old merchant in Algiers.

I remember, as if it were now, the old dealer
who looked like a Goya oil painting,
standing next to long swords and torn
uniforms—in a hoarse voice, saying,

“This knife, here, which you want to buy—
legend surrounds it. Everyone knows
that those who have owned it, one after another
have all, at some time, killed someone close.

Don Basilio used it to kill
Donna Giulia, his unfaithful wife.
And Count Antonio, one night, secretly
murdered his brother with this knife.

Some Italian sailor—a Greek boatswain.
An African, in a jealous rage, his lover.
Hand to hand, it fell into mine.
I’ve seen many things, but this brings me terror.

Bend down. Look. Here, hold it. It’s light.
And see here, the anchor and coat of arms.
But I would advise you to buy something else.
How much? Seven francs. Since you want it, it’s yours.”

This dagger now tight in my belt—my strangeness
made me take it off that shelf.
Since there’s no one I hate enough to kill,
I fear someday I’ll turn it on myself.

(After the Greek of Nikos Kavadias)

Resistance Fantasies, 2004


(Sapphics from Tauris)

Song has come tonight to allow my questions.
How did I arrive on this unknown ocean?
Life passed in the fall of that long blade, only
following orders.

Sacrificed for ‘favorable winds,’ but somehow
plucked from Charon just when I tasted iron.
Someone took my place. I could feel the bones and
flesh fill the space left.

Blood in my eyes, I could feel fur and skin wrap
round me, hear the voice that was not my own, scream
out—in language all of us understand, yet
let it be uttered.

If we survive, memory makes one part split
from the other. One of me died that evening.
One of me seems safe, but will always carry
Fear like a stone child.

Now, with wine-dark hands, I am made to carry
out the very act which my scars remember.
How can I allow yet another brother
such final terror.

Resistance Fantasies, 2004

Poetry in this post: © Diane Thiel
Published with the permission of Diane Thiel