103.1: Louise Mathias:: Silt & Elk River Road & Admonishment & The Cartesian Other & Still 103

I love the brevity and compression of these poems by Louise Mathias. Routinely, they aim towards a combination of disjunction, beauty, and the grotesque, but each one achieves this in a deliberately unique and characteristically bizarre and lovely way. They compel me to agree with Louise Glück’s admission that, she is attracted “to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence.” Where the poems lack in “abundance” they thrive in their economy and in what her speaker withholds. Take for example “Admonishment,” which both fulfills its title’s promise and seems to withhold its own secrets as well:

       To be impossible, but full

       of endless mouth. Same goes
       for hissing starlight in the daytime.
       You hold

       the slippery kitten ‘til it says
       let me eat

       somebody else’s music now.

This is not merely the artsy tactic of telling it slant. Mathias’s sentences weave like highly charged and inextricable threads in a vibrant helix. The sentences thrive off their disruption of logical continuity and prove to demonstrate poetic puzzlement in each sentence, just as the poem itself remains an aggregate of individual conundrums. I shouldn’t begin to ask why being “full of endless mouth” negates, or proves conciliatory to, a state of impossibility, nor even why the first sentence’s paradoxical and befuddling message is reiterated by “hissing starlight in daytime.” The fun is in the guessing; an answer or an aesthetic explanation from Mathias or the gods would ruin the immeasurable joy that these little paradoxes bring.

I’m again compelled to echo Glück’s argument, for these poems seem to demand it: “All Earthly experience is partial. Not because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do not know.” In this line of thought, Mathias’s poems prove so valuable because a more innate mystery and silence seems so integral to their composition. This silence is symptomatic of the poet’s astute and arduous vision. Each of these poems offers us a subject, but routinely we see how this subject is blotted out, obscured, and rendered opaque for the sake of its beauty. Just take a look at the last line of “Still,”: “But what is there to say? He posed / me like a dead girl and I liked it”. Cody Todd


Yes, it was a kind of terror. As if fingering
the spine of a book, then finding
every page is gone. In this admission,
children can go missing,

houses burn. No one comes.

The other version is this: the road goes on forever:
lined in Ocotillo, pure hot tarmac
throughout the valley,
along the skeleton coast—

Elk River Road

                                         (Humboldt County, California)

Like the last of the damned, a handful,
slender bay—

It’s true I had wondered: marigolds growing
all over

this locked door.
Excited (admit it)

by the voile of the drapes.

all, farmer-ly.

The role of the marigolds, the voile.


To be impossible, but full

of endless mouth. Same goes
for hissing starlight in the daytime.
You hold

the slippery kitten ‘til it says
let me eat

somebody else’s music now.

The Cartesian Other

In the narrowest spaces, she doth unravel, as if
a forest fire.

In its simplest form, starving: lack of food

but also (archaic)
to bludgeon with cold.

But the lake like a Molotov cocktail…

The dominant color always flame.


Good to live
where the stars still work. A little
cirrus/nimbus? floating by—

Confess: you wanted the world (and you)

to just shut up.
But what is there to say? He posed
me like a dead girl and I liked it