*Not your average publishing company

In Orbit at the End of Mind

To my other parents, Wallace Stevens & Louise Bourgeois

it was summer then it was not

autumn birds hidden in the dusty hedge

your volume, an ever
green affront sits on the shelf

I look up
from my ersatz ergonomic chair

I have been bringing you everywhere
your golden isolation
your insistent consonants
tamed by regular hand, the immense
weight of brittle page


 in your collection, I place as bookmark, the postcard
of her installation, Spider, 1997

she invites me
to sit in the leather
sling, my thigh’s large artery pulses
against the steer’s dry hide

it’s rebar cold beneath the concrete floor
it’s prairie dark

no one would dare

sit in your chair or sip your drink or touch
the dainty porcelain shepherdess
her hand-painted crook

your cage is gilt and decorative

your words mesmerize in measured oblivion


she asks
are you in orbit?
not so much ask, but etch the soft relief
on copper plates and print
twin paper sheets

spider spins like an old woman within
mountain range from above or
below wishbone ribs

birds migrate
beyond wide span bars before
they can be collected

small withered songs
piercing true


your departure, August 2, 1955
my arrival, New York Harbor, August 3rd
a rough crossing from Rotterdam
a slow one from St. Francis

your words do not cross water
do not even cross the liquid of my breathing

I carry you from place to place

I put you on the shelf

I invite myself

you do not invite me in


as if you were still watching
your small daughter from the cobbled rim
I skate on failed memories at Elizabeth Pond

I watch her forgotten red mitten
unravel horizontal

her imperfect figure eights
nothing to do with eternity or the purple

only her cold right hand always
in orbit

daughters and mothers
comforting nightmares dismissed
by your perfunctory wave

madness and ice bruised thumbs

you see only your own sadness

and now the melting
and now you are long dead and geese
stay all winter at the frozen edge

I was baptized as you lay in your most solemn clothes


as if we could live
in your kaleidoscope without wanting
to shatter it

to see if something breathes
if there is anything
beyond the mirrored trap

your feet on the grassy boulevard
your mind constructing transparent
triangles of color and philosophy

your walk, your penciled slips a habit unstoppable
even before illness, a dead man in dictation’s discipline

pages foxed
and lignin brown


I mark the marble monuments
of bureaucratic tombs, but also look east

to fields plowed
against the hill
resembling a youthful woman resting on her side

languid industry

seasons rotate

cheek round and shallow breasts
dissemble the circle and habit
and the little girl

fall brings twilight
raucous, terrifying


I blame you
for distraught Octobers, senses that rest
on skin and never crack a rib or tear cartilage

broken abstractions
destruction of the absent
iron lubrication
ungraspable keys
forgotten locks

from my office, the nursing home
becomes a hotel

men shout hospital beds through windows
onto the parking lot

of course, no one will come
of course, you are alone


somnambulant stanzas march on dainty toes
through pages that were white
prize, now gold rebukes.

like my dyed, blown-out hair
lacquered by authority
your aspirations fly behind me

someone else’s careful arrangement

your island misses the ocean
your light forgets the sky

air sews grey needles into ice


yet your black becomes my black
and your device of address
always questioning

but what I never get from you
and why I carry you from place to place
is how to get away from all those hours
of accident and indemnity
contract and brief

to pull me into your own circuit

I will not create my own gravity

or dictate lines like policy

or liquidate my claims


the spider weaves

the spider never walks away
each leg makes seven volumes bronze and steel

next to a crib on agile methodology
in the endless meetings on uninterruptible

power supply
your belligerence remains

            she offers comfort in the unspeakable chair
brick walls mostly stripped of paint
faint dreams of white remaining
diffuse glass weaves the base
of what was frightening
what has become beautiful

voices penetrate the cage


your birds pretend
to float above a wave

you have been my albatross, my circle stone
the crime that follows me, stinking of
autumn ginkgo, the soft taste of remembering

your winged weariness etched hard
words and simple colors
mystery never seeping into mysteries
ephemeral opacity written to be heard
by penitents in a varnished pew

you are going around something where I am not allowed
that pulls at me, feigns a ticket
the supreme fiction, colored threads that dissolve
after surgery, that itch
on waking

too early birds staying or leaving


in a curved bowl, fruit

copper plate weighs abstract
adjectives with concrete nouns
flesh snags the throat on swallowing

no taste, yet

feeling is everything
and someone else takes care of the polishing

she takes a needle to frayed feet
you wear shoes to the beach


above high tide’s abandonment, the share
head rots orange

my Cerberus
will manage with one less
mouth to feed

we share that sharp bite of cool glass
orphaned solitude with gin
and the memory of melting

wool on snow

I choose the other
bitter seed

the raw

Ellen White Rook is a poet and contemplative arts teacher who divides her time between upstate New York and Maine. Retired from a career as an information technology manager, she now offers writing workshops and leads retreats that combine meditation, movement, and writing. Ellen holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Lindenwood University and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her first collection of poetry, Suspended, is forthcoming in May 2023. To read more of her work, visit her website at ellenwhiterook.com.

Facebook @ewrook

Instagram @rookellen

One response to “In Orbit at the End of Mind”

  1. Alexander Avatar

    a magnificent poem – full of wonderful surprises – smart, controlled – draws you in and keeps you there till the end

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