Close Reading by Alexis Harley

& by Leo Reynolds (via Flickr)
& by Leo Reynolds (via Flickr)

For today is National Punctuation Day, the day to pull out all the stops, to revel in comma karma, to get to the exclamation point. It’s a day for high colonics and high semicolonics. — John Kelly, The Washington Post

In honour of National Punctuation Day, I’m reposting one of my favourite poems for your enjoyment. Now go forth and punctuate!

On Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned to @redrobinreader that one of my favourite poems uses punctuation and literature-speak as metaphors for sex. I couldn’t find the poem online, so I tracked down the poet to see if she’ll allow me to post it here.

Close Reading by Alexis Harley was originally published in Tangent 2000: An anthology of women’s creative work.

Alexis Harley has generously given Book Thingo permission to post the poem in its entirety. Here it is for your reading pleasure.

Close Reading
By Alexis Harley

On white sheets (of papers, dear) you lie.
I have, how many times?, bored in class,
Undone, unzipped, unbuckled your verbs,
And watched sentences slip to your feet,
Taken your ampersand in my mouth,
Curled two too ready lips round your vowels.

I have, how many times?, read over your letters,
The G for Geranium, the L for Lugubrious,
Eavesdropped on your parentheses, and
Listened to an illicit rendezvous of sound.
I want, with aching brain, I want to slide
My mind, me, inside your wanton couplets:
Between the smooth soft heave of words,
And the smooth soft heave of silence.

Your black on white. Your sudden breaths.
The sweet caesura in a heavy-lidded line.
And, how many times?, no longer bored in class,
Have I almost wept and caught a word and sighed
At the little death of an unexpectedly full stop.

© Alexis Harley

Tangent was published by the Sydney University Union. Unfortunately, I can’t find Tangent 2000 listed in either AbeBooks or Biblioz. And to think they were handed out for free at uni at the time!


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