blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 10  No. 1
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A joint venture of the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University and New Virginia Review, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 by Blackbird and the individual writers and artists

ISSN 1540-3068


Virginia Commission for the Arts

Culture Works

Claudia Emerson
  photo by Kent Ippolito  

Claudia Emerson (1957–2014)

With great sadness we at Blackbird note the death of our dear friend Claudia Emerson. Words cannot express how much we will miss her company and her spirit. To quote Kathleen Graber, director of creative writing in VCU’s Department of English:

Claudia Emerson was unquestionably a poet of the highest caliber and achievement, a poet whose work needs no one to speak on its behalf. When I think of her poems, I think of the marriage of astute, honest observation and fierce urgency to remarkable grace, and I think now that is how someone might also describe her character. In this way, she continues to give us an ongoing model of how to be fully alive and actively engaged in the world.

We invite you to remember Claudia Emerson and her work. The following poem, “The Ocularist,” was first published in Blackbird v12n1. Links to her work in the current and previous issues of Blackbird appear below.


The Ocularist

One of the earliest
                              eyes was found
                                                        with the ancient
corpse of a woman
                               in Persia, hers
                                                       made of gold
to resemble
                    a small sun—
                                          iris and sclera
chased rays—
                       clear testament
                                                 not to the eye,
but to the light
                         that had been
                                                  made go out. 
The later ones
                        crafted of glass      
                                                  I studied
and practiced
                       for fire-blown        
                                               beauty, learning
another fragility,      
                                                  to the body’s
heat, the way
                       glass shatters
                                                inside the fleetest
fever. For
                 its give—
                                  and forgiveness—
I worked then
                        in ivory-wax,
                                               and after
perfecting the shape,
                                 cloned with
                                                     paint an iris,
small blood
                   vessels from
                                        filaments of red
silk, then sealed
                            the whole
                                              beneath an acrylic
                      invisible. Mine
                                              was always
the smaller
                   studio, the work
                                              fine, lonely
as a jeweler’s,
                       my needs
                                         the same—a window,
a lamp, lighted 
                      eye loupe. Half-
                                                sculptor, half-
illustrator, I
                    thought for
                                        a long time
I was crafting   
                       something place- 
                                                   saving at best,
an orbit-
              warmed imposter,
                  narrative of loss—
                                                 flying glass
or knife,
                a thumb’s  determined
                                                     gouge. But I
learned finally
                        to manipulate
                                                 the way light
played the sphere—
                               the pupil
                                               seeming to dilate
from dusk or
not of form
                   but of function,
                                             not of object
but of the seen-
                          self, enticing it not
                                                          to look away.
The patient’s
                     eye took with it,
                                                after all,

only periphery
                              and the perception
                                                               of depth,
asides the truest
                               beholding has
                                                       never required.
So I aligned
                      the gaze
                                      for the whole-sighted
world, that
                   it might find
                                        some small figment
of itself
              contained there, already in
                                                           the brain—
I could make it
                        believe—the fact
                                                    of what was
not there of no
                         matter at all,
                                                the final
measure of an eye’s
                                  worth, in fact,
                                                          its complete
                           and with it,
the opposite
                      eye that was
                                             such belief.  end

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