The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Lynne Knight

A Map of Dementia


                 Harley is deeply unwilling to admit that most maps are used by most people for
                 directional purposes. To him, a map is a “social construction,” a “thick text,”

                 “redescription of reality,” a “silent arbiter of power,” a “polemic,” a “manifesto

                 for a set of beliefs about the world,” or a “text of power.”
                                    Nicholas Lehmann, “Atlas Shrugged”

social construction

She laid a hand on the sheet,
stared down at an island,
veined archipelagos.
Hello, she called to figures
walking there. How are you?
But her voice swept off
in wind. Boats came
with fishermen, long spears.
Bright fish streaked the keel.
Hurry up, she called, saving all
she could save.

thick text

she could no longer read the words moved
like living things I believe in the living &
the dead
or lay inert in graves carved
by their own letters with no ceremony
no priest come with his loud moan soft robes
to splash cool oils on her brow to lead her
through the shadowy green valley to the after
life where her stillborn ones still waited
in her arms while she sang them hush oh
hush so sweet they longed to string themselves
into lyres long arms of the dead to reach
& pluck while she kept singing & the living
& the dead poured through the river of her
breath her words her worlds amen again amen

redescription of reality

This is her body.
This is the mind
that has fled the body
like a shadow running from fire or flood.
This is the mouth
that made the words that claimed
the life that fled the mind
that broke apart
like a building in fire or flood.
This is the bed where
the body lies while the mind
finds other worlds whose borders
dissolve like borders between
dreams you run from in bare feet
thinking fire or flood might lick
your ankles any second.

silent arbiter of power

Her teeth clamp shut
at the strike of a spoon.
Her lips press tight
at the sound of her name.
She is holding death
at the throat, small animal
she’s too weak to kill.
Every so often her thirst
is slaked.
When she sleeps,
it sleeps.


The lobes of the brain are maps
in the making. Contrary to all our desires,
Death remains
that undiscovered country,
an unprojected form not unlike the surface
of uncharted territory, where
the dead have been known to carry on
as if they were still living.

manifesto for a set of beliefs about the world


What seems real
may seem more real
as time goes by.
She takes my hand, shakes it & shakes it.
Look at these carrots! she cries.
Longing to be one with her again,
I watch dirt fly from my fingers
into the ordinary air.
Mmmm, I say, licking one.
She slaps at it: Wash stuff off
before you put it in your mouth.


What begins as sorrow continues.
But with detachment, sorrow might diffuse
into sky or cloud, being
too fleeting to say. Being
attached to the world means we are bound
to suffer, as certainly as if we’d hooked
to our backs not wings but rocks
then run from a cliff
yearning to fly.


We learn from birds & their flight
other words for impermanence:
Nest. Alight.


Every sorrow has an end.
One day, an old woman sets off for the mountains,
knowing it is time to die.
She carries a stick & a small bundle of fruit.
She drops seeds along the path
& in this way
her going becomes
my memory.

text of power

. . . old maps of England often demarcate the estates of noblemen as if they were natural

features of the environment, & relegate the places where everyone else lives to “silences.”
                    “Atlas Shrugs,” Nicholas Lehmann

Having lived a long time in the silences
she seeks a loud haven, a river
coursing over continents, into oceans, flinging itself
up mountains, down their steep sides,
gathering stones it lets slip
& slide, pulling roots it lets drift,
whirling, eddying, bursting into clear air
where peace resides—there, just there,
a blue sweep off the map’s edge
she folds back like a sheet
too thin to make her body



Lynne Knight

The Assassin Within


i eden under snow

Walking through the woods at dawn,
I fell, wrenching my ankle. I lay
thinking how absurd it would be to die
of the cold less than a mile from home.
Then I struggled up, wincing, brushing
off the snow. I could walk, haltingly.

To lure myself on, I saw some Earl Grey tea
steaming in a white cup on the teal table,
the morning sun warming the room
where I would read Les âmes grises
by Philippe Claudel, a book I’d already read
three times, finding its inquiry on God

and the soul (not that Claudel calls it this)
more subtle than any I could make.
Some have accused Claudel of indulging
in melancholy for the sake of melancholy,
of obscuring his readers’ judgment
with clouds of tristesse. But I admire

his patience and skill in revealing,
slowly, the one responsible for killing
the beautiful young girl found dead
in the river, lips blue, eyelids blanched,
hair a tangle of deep rust reeds.
Where is the assassin? everyone wonders,

and since no one knows, everyone falls
under suspicion. This happens
early on. Where is the assassin?
is a question I ask often, having witnessed
the death of lovers in my dreams.
The answer may be closer than I care to admit,

my teacup steaming, the sun streaming,
the war in the novel (the Great War) within
hearing distance, death more and more
insistent. Do I, like the narrator, live
in regret as if it’s a country, dig
in the past without soiling my hands?

ii hidden assassins

Il est difficile de tuer les morts, Claudel tells us:
It’s hard to kill the dead. Not that the lovers
in my dreams were dead: only
my bond to them, which I killed easily,
like this steam from my cup, placing my hand
over it now to preserve some of the heat

while I contemplate all the assassins let loose
on the earth. As for the lovers, I had more
than was good for me, my mother said.
Really she said I’d end up drowned
in the Thames, which sounded more emphatic
and unanswerable than the Hudson,

the river I lived by. By a Slow River
is the American translation of Les âmes grises,
instead of the more literal English version,
Grey Souls. Some critics argue a slow river
is too obvious a symbol, too easily invoked.
Yet when a slow river slows even more

with winter, it’s like the heart or the soul
slowing at the thought of death, as if to
trick time, another way of saying death—
because—Where is the assassin?
There were times I dreamed I’d hired one.
To keep my hands clean, to sleep the sleep

of the just, which my mother warned I’d forsaken
along with my happiness because I was too fond
of magnifying what had no business being magnified,
given how ordinary everyone was, starting with me,
ordinary and dull, just like, Claudel tells us,
one of those pebbles that lie untouched for days

until someone comes along the road,
kicks it into the air, and—what’s a pebble to do?
Critics also object to rhetorical questions,
me asking the lovers Would you rather live
like one of the living dead?
then slamming
something shut, a door, a drawer, my voice.

iii like as unto

Avoiding the polemical or didactic,
Claudel says that even in the void we need
to know if there are others who resemble us.
Or: To think that someone among you
might be an assassin is to think
the assassin might be you. And:

The bastards, the saints, I’ve never met them.
(Of course it’s not Claudel here but his narrator.)
(Of course it’s not his narrator here but Claudel.)
Nothing’s all black or white . . .
It’s the same with men and their souls.

Well, I think, the sun having moved away

from the chair now, late afternoon, the ankle
iced against further throbbing, Well,
better a grey soul than a black one, comforted
to know I really am, as my mother said,
no one special. As in You are not the center
of the universe, young lady.
Or was that me

talking to my daughter? How the lines
blur, like the line between the living and the dead
while the assassins lie quiet and the world
goes on and somewhere right this minute
someone walking down a road kicks a pebble
into the air and the pebble lands elsewhere

and stays there a while, in Afghanistan
or Canada, Milwaukee or Beirut. And so on,
reminding us our lives are like pebbles,
small, small, and our souls neither
black nor white, and it is hard to kill
the dead—God’s answer to the assassins.




LYNNE KNIGHT is the author of five full-length poetry collections, three of them prize winners, and of four chapbooks, three of them also prize winners. Her sixth collection, The Language of Forgetting, will appear from Sixteen Rivers Press in 2018. Her work has appeared in a number of journals, including Kenyon Review, Poetry and Southern Review. Her other awards and honors include publication in Best American Poetry, the Prix de l’Alliance Française 2006, a PSA Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, the 2009 RATTLE Poetry Prize, and an NEA grant. I Know (Je sais), her translation with the author Ito Naga of his Je sais, appeared in 2013.



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