The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Ioanna Carlsen

Three About Nothing


Nothing I

            Knowing nothing well, teaches you everything—put it in your pocket and let it

jangle around in there, until it slips out of its inevitable hole.
            Nothing, you will find if you pick it up, is a coin that has two sides, both of them

faceless. Nothing looked at from the top has no bottom, from the bottom, no top.
            Sideways can get you into trouble because this is the place where nothing stops.
            This is where nowhere holds you in its vast horizon like a breath held forever,

where you breathe what is not.


Nothing II

            You looked askance at nothing, though it was built into you like a rock.
            You were trained to evade it as all people are, but it was stuck in there, the one

firm thing you could stand on.
            Running away from it was hard, but even alone you learned how to evade it. The

more alone you became, the more you found everything was filled with something that was

            The noise of the ten thousand things filled even your silence, like a dryer down in

the basement or a dishwasher up in a kitchen, running throughout your life.
            You were taught that nothing is the most unacceptable interesting thing in the

world, and you should spend all your time and money running away from it.
            When all you had to do was sit there and watch everything evaporate, the sound

between bird calls.
            Nothing is life’s secret.
            Your heart’s in its coffer, your foot’s in its door.


Nothing III

            Nothing has its disguises. On the stage at the opera, the soprano, a mountain of

sequins accompanies the tenor, both mere distractions. Moving center-stage from the

wings, the basso approaches, dressed in black, like the great theme he is, the nothing that

            After the performance, a landscape: lights of cars inching over a hill to a city, where

a million inhabitants cry, fuss, laugh, eat, slip and fall in the middle of nothing, this

everything underlined with nothing that we know.
            Nothing is this journey, taking you everywhere, nothing also is your train, hooting

through the countryside and pressing toward the station, letting the world know it’s near,

taking you to a destination where everything, even nothing, disappears.




IOANNA CARLSEN's poems have appeared in Poetry, The Hudson Review, Field, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The New Guard Review, and many other magazines. She was featured on Poetry Daily in 2001 and 2006. She was in Billy Collins’ “Poetry 180” and won the 2002 Glimmer Train Poetry Open.  Her poetry book, The Whisperer, won 2nd place in the 2015 NM Press Women’s Book Award.  Her poems appeared this year in Agni and Alaska Quarterly Review.



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