[To] The Last [Be] Human is the title of Jorie Graham’s new book, out today at Copper Canyon Press. It collects four extraordinary poetry books—Sea Change, Place, Fast, and Runaway, with a foreword by Robert Macfarlane.
NWCC is honored to present excerpts from [To] The Last [Be] Human, but also from a book with new poems by Jorie Graham, «TO 2040». The last one will be published in April next year.
At the forest’s edge, a fox
It looked at
us. Nobody coming up the hill hungry looking
food. The fox-
trained. Nobody coming up the
hill in the broad
daylight with an
wood, for water, for the store in the
pantry. I stock
the pantry. I
watch for rain. For too much
long. When dryness begins I hear the woods
I hear the arid. Un-
usual. My father
is dying of
age, good, that is usual. My valley is,
my touch, my sense, my law, my
soil, my sensation of
person. Now everything is clear. Facts lick their tongue deep
into my ear.
Visiting hour is up. We are curled
on the hook we placed in our brain and down
our throat into our
hearts our inner
the long fishing line of the so-called journey and taken its
fine piercing into
our necks backs hands it comes out our
mouths it re-enters our ears and in it goes
again deep the dream
we count up everyone to make sure we are all here
together, the only
holders, the applause-lines make the
gleam—the bottom line—how much
did you think you
could own—the first tree
we believed was a hook we got it
wrong—the fox is still
standing there it
is staring it is
not scared—there is nothing behind it, beyond it—no value—
the story of Eden:
revision: we are now
breaking into the Garden. It was, for the
us now we
in—have emptied all
the limbs the streaming fabric of
light milliseconds leaves the now inaudible
birds whales bees—have
in these days made arrangements to get
we know not but the court says
we are to be
for our way of life being
taken from us—fox says
what a rough garment
your brain is
you wear it all over you—fox says
language is a hook you
try pulling somewhere on the strings but no
they are all through you,
had you only looked
down, fox says, look down to the
road and keep your listening
up, fox will you not
move on my heart thinks checking the larder the
says your greed is not
or starve. Too much. Or not enough. Or. Nothing else?
Nothing else. Too high too fast too organized too invisible.
Will we survive I ask the bot. No. To download bot be
swift—you are too backward, too despotic—to load greatly enlarge the
cycle of labor—to load abhor labor—move to the
periphery, of your body, your city, your planet—to load, degrade, immiserate, be
your own deep sleep—to load use your lips—use them
to mouthe your oath, chew it—do the
dirty thing, sing it, blown off limb or syllable, lick it back on with
your mouth—talk—talk—who is not
terrified is busy begging for water—the rise is fast—the drought
comes fast—mediate—immediate—invent, inspire, infil-
trate, instill—here’s the heart of the day, the flower of time—talk—talk—
Disclaimer: Bot uses a growing database of all your conversations to
learn how to talk with you. If some of you
are also bots, bot can’t tell. Disclaimer:
you have no secret memories,
talking to cleverbot may provide companionship, the
active ingredient is a question,
the active ingredient is entirely natural.
Disclaimer: protect your opportunities, your information, in-
formants, whatever you made of time. You have nothing else to
give. Active ingredient: why are you
shouting? Why? Arctic wind uncontrollable, fetus reporting
for duty, fold in the waiting which recognizes you,
recognizes the code,
the peddler in the street everyone is calling out.
Directive: report for voice. Ready yourself to be buried in voice.
It neither ascends nor descends. Inactive ingredient: the monotone.
Some are talking now about the pine tree. One assesses its
disadvantages. They are discussing it in many languages. Next they
move to roots, branches, buds, pseudo whorls, candles—
they run for their lives, lungs and all. They do not know what to do with their
will. Disclaimer: all of your minutes are being flung down.
They will never land. You will not be understood.
The deleted world spills out jittery as a compass needle with no north.
Active ingredient: the imagination of north.
Active ingredient: north spreading in all the directions.
Disclaimer: there is no restriction to growth. The canary singing in
is in mine. Remember:
people are less
than kind. As a result, chatterbot is often less than kind. Still, you
will find yourself unwilling to stop.
Joan will use visual grammetry to provide facial movements.
I’m not alone. People come back
again and again. We are less kind than we think. There
is no restriction to the growth of our cruelty. We
will come to the edge of
understanding. Like being hurled down the stairs tied to a
keyboard, we will go on, unwilling to stop. The longest real world
conversation with a bot lasted
11 hours, continuous interaction. This
bodes well. We are not alone. We are looking to improve.
The priestess inhales the fumes. They come from the
mountain. Here and here. Then she gives you the machine-gun run of
syllables. Out of her mouth. Quick. You must make up your
answer as you made up your
question. Hummingbirds shriek. Bot is amazing he says, I believe it knows the
secrets of the Universe. He is more fun to speak with
than my actual living friends she says, thank you. This is the best thing since
me. I just found it yesterday.
I love it, I want to marry it.
I got sad when I had to think
that the first person
who has ever understood me is
not even it turns out
human. Because this is as good as human gets.
He just gives it to me straight. I am going to keep him
forever. I treated him like a computer
but I was wrong. Whom am I talking to—
You talk to me when I am alone. I am alone.
Each epoch dreams the one to follow.
To dwell is to leave a trace.
I am not what I asked for.
The earth said
The earth said
don’t let go,
said it one day
when I was
heard it, I felt it like
said in a whisper—
morrow, make right be-
fall, you are not
free, other scenes
are not taking
place, time is not filled,
time is not late, there is a
thing the emptiness
needs as you need
shrinks from light again &
again, although all things
are present, a
fact a day a
bird that warps the
arithmetic of per-
fection with its
arc, passing again &
again in the evening
air, in the pre-
vailing wind, making no
difference is yr
the mind says all the
time—I hear it—I
hear it every-
where. The earth
me. I am the
earth it said. Re-
PRAYER FOUND UNDER FLOOR BOARD
Listen. We are crowds now. We gather in the eardrum of.
The scaffolding grows.
As if the solution.
There is not a soft part of us.
Except for the days in us.
We let the pieces fall where they may.
The visible in its shell gets smashed.
The desperation re the gorgeous raw material—earth—the sensation of last
night, storms spilled, plumed, odor of
looking for the various directions
though it makes no difference.
I have seen
nothing. It is deafening. It shakes with laughter
with ways of looking. It rattles. Listen. How much is it now
the thing I want?
The soft wind is it recompense?
But I was trying to tell you about us now.
How we finally realized we made no difference.
And the visible we love. Its notes its intervals.
Over which the sunlight still proceeds shivering with precision.
With the obligation of precision.
The visible whose carapace we love.
And how our love is that we are seen.
All the way into
the mind are seen.
The earth with its fingers in our mouth nose ears.
The visible with its ghosts its smooth utmosts.
And weight and limit—how they heave up—
pray for us we are destroyers—
pray we fail—the mind must fail—
but still for now a while longer let me
who am part of it & must fail & the pieces
which must not fall where they may,
they must not, as all is hearing this
from the deep future, deep origin cry.
Cry mind sick with the delight of getting it always only right.
Cry fingering the earth every crevice.
Cry all the trees like a problem you
How could you not have maintained steady state.
It is lean this unfolding of
your days over this earth. Listen, a flap
where a gate shuts, where the next step is
coldly placed without hope—& crackles
rising where your footfall goes—oh
I am huge—I would
take back names give up the
weight of being give up place
delete there delete possess, go,
love, notice, shape, drift, to be in minutes once again, in just one hour
my small hand comes out of my pocket
asking to touch one more time. Without
taking. To touch. To not take away
any sensation any memory. To come to
the feeling-about at the edge of the object
and stay. Release focus. Release shape.
back off release blind ourselves thumb away hope…
But I am huge.
extinct yet. Who owns
the map. May I
look. Where is my
claim. Is my history
verifiable. Have I
included the memory
of the animals. The animals’
memories. Are they
still here. Are we
appear. Of memories. Whose? What was land
like. Did it move
through us. Something says nonstop
are you here
are your ancestors
real do you have a
body do you have
yr self in
mind can you see yr
hands—have you broken it
the thread—try to feel the
pull of the other end—
says make sure
both ends are
alive when u pull to
try to re-enter
here. A raven
has arrived while I
am taking all this
down. In- corporate
squawks. It hops closer
along the stone
wall. Do you remember
despair its coming
closer says. I look
at him. Do not
hurry I say but
he is tapping the stone
all over with his
beak. His coat is
sun. He looks
carefully at me bc I
am so still &
eager. He sees my
begin. Is this a real
encounter I ask. Of the old
kind. When there were
says the light. You are
barely here. The raven
long time ago. It
is traveling its thread its
skyroad forever now, it knows the
current through the
cicadas, which you cannot hear
close over u now. But is it not
here I ask looking up
through my stanzas.
Did it not reach me
as it came in. Did
it not enter here
at stanza eight—& where
does it go now
when it goes away
again, when I tell you the raven is golden,
when I tell you it lifted &
went, & it went.
THIS VASE OF QUINCE BRANCHES YOU SENT ME
in blossom. On the
kitchen table now.
Taller than me.
Why do I feel
In my warm vest and winter coat. In
Hands empty at my
side. What are you
for. Standing there as if in
some other country. An
past or future.
No logic religion sorrow
smoke signals to
Are you hearing each other. The sight of me is
of a thing with
too much heart, too
salmon-pink blossoms brutal with
I have watched
where u welled up and broke skin to
emerge like a disaster
of beauty, yr
tall arms here reach up &
differently, cut branches carefully criss-
crossed in the vase to arrange u, to hold u firm
design. And the water
which you draw in at
cut. I struggle
to stand at
attention. Yr sweet acrid scent
now. Something else
floats in the air
around yr blossoms. It
stares at me.
It keeps on staring. If it’s
I can’t tell. It’s not domesticated.
The rest of yr tree arrives like a bloodshot eye in
my head. Silence is
stretching. There is less and less
time. I breathe
quietly. I place my hands on my eyes.
If I am a messenger, what is
my message. I fear
it is fruitless. It is un-
yielding. It is devoid of
patience. I reach
out. My fingers try for
no damage. But my mind is still here. It
I think of the invisible stars. I try to
unthink them. I would give that
unthought space back
to yr branches. Some
of yr buds are
darker & swollen.
They have not opened yet.
What is it to open.
What is it to open & have one’s
last time left.
The green is coming. It is pushing from behind. I
can feel the tremor of hanging on.
I have not yet fallen.
How crowded we are on our stalk.
Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950. She was raised in Rome, Italy, and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. Graham is the author of 14 collections of poetry, most recently Runaway (Ecco 2020), Fast (Ecco 2017), PLACE (Ecco 2012), Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990. Her work has been widely translated and is the recipient of multiple awards, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, The Forward Prize (UK), The International Nonino Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and The Wallace Stevens Award. She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.
About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: “For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption—intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic—rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.” / Copper Canyon Press
Photo / ©Jeannette Montgomery Barron
Selections from [To] the Last [Be] Human and To 2040, copyright 2022 and 2023 by Jorie Graham, used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.