Have you ever felt that your own existence is being called into question? That you might be real but in the next moment disappear? Robert Cording explores this feeling in his poem “Erasure.” At first the poem’s speaker decides that his life is “too neatly drawn” and needs some erasure, some subtleness. So he goes out into a field as night falls. His experience there becomes more, though, than he can comfortably handle. Cording dramatizes this through masterful repetitions. Watch what he does with the word “here.” In stanza one, it refers generally to life itself; I’m “here” in the living world. In the following line (the beginning of stanza two), “here” is a specific place: the field. But by the final stanza, “here / I am” sounds a note of panic, as the speaker senses death taking him over. Death’s approach, meanwhile, is marked by repetitions of “dark/darkness.” At first, in stanza three, it’s the speaker’s own choice to place himself outside at twilight, with “darkness rising up.” As night comes on and shadows take away the names of oaks and ash trees, “the dark adds the slightest chill.” But “It’s then / that the invisible hearse of darkness / waits for me to get in.” The speaker feels his life slipping away as darkness overwhelms him. He calls out for “someone” to verify his living reality.
It’s what I need to practice,
the lines of my life too neatly drawn
around the comfort of being here.
It’s why I’m out here again,
in the middle of the field just as
the day pauses between what is
and what was, darkness rising up
between the hemlocks and spruces
that have brought their shadows
together. I’m waiting for the moment
when the oaks and ashes
slip out of the names we gave them,
the thrushes have had their say
and the dark adds the slightest chill
to the air, a breeze announcing itself
in the wind chimes. It’s then
that the invisible hearse of darkness
waits for me to get in. It’s then
that I too often call out, here
I am, to someone who has just begun
to wonder where I have gone.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Robert Cording
Robert Cording’s fifth book of poems, Common Life (CavanKerry), was published in May 2006. Previous volumes include What Binds Us To This World (Cooper Beech), Heavy Grace(Alice James), and Against Consolation (CavanKerry). He recently received his second NEA fellowship in poetry.