Stuart Greenhouse

Off on a Tangent

If you had

a rock in a sling, a tangent is

what would happen if you let it fly.



Death, were you what my grandfather heard

in those last years

or where his hearing went, in place of?

Can’t hear us now, pop, earth shot deep:

six feet of dirt in your ear.



We place stones to show we had been here,

fragile pyramidal pile, quiet

set not to disturb

what they hold

past down.

Primitive. Better a circle

to entrance.



If earth were to let you

be, and the sun, all that is

gravity to you (which is all),

that would be a tangent.

An aside of what is, a hypothetical line going nowhere

hearing can follow.




giant untranscience, what are we

to move through

you? Strike through, or glance

even thusly?





If I above this settling mound

whistled hard, round

like a robin

like my grandfather did for boy-me

through what sadness is to

what am I and the robin am,

let loose off my circumference

and touched in passing his,

that would be a tangent.

That would be song

like the song you don’t hear or sing

but by not listening.



Come, come around, o

giant, (giant who is now

my grandfather, whose circumference

is now shared his), if you follow me

I’ll follow you,

each smaller than thought, as we once were,

stones around his head like gravity

of thought could order anything

into company not memory,

speaking the words I know

so well they spin in my ears

I no longer hear.



“Off on a Tangent” originally appeared in Eucalyptus, and then in What Remains, a chapbook published by the Poetry Society of America (2005).