Jean Nordhaus, "As If To Say"



           in memory of William Stafford



At the famous poets’ reunion

in that luminous hall full of somebodies,


he came in his turn to the lectern.

Wordless, he held up his hand,

and, I swear, it gave out light. 

It shined like a face—as if to say


a poem is a warranty, an offering 

of self in greeting, as if

in that room full of words 

and of breath, which is only 


wind, to say: Hello, I’ve been 

waiting for you. Come in. I had 

hardly begun my journey.

I thought it was easy. All I recall 


of that evening—of all those words 

which are breath given voice—

is that hand held out in welcome 

and I believe in memory, 


even when it is flawed, 

to say what is true.



Jean Nordhaus has published a number of books, including My Life in HidingA Bracelet of Lies, and The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn. Her work has appeared in American Poetry ReviewNew RepublicPoetryBest American Poetry 2000, and The Other Side of the Hill: 1975-1995, an anthology of poems by the Capitol Hill Poetry Group. Nordhaus has served as Coordinator of the Folger Shakespeare Library's poetry programs and as President of Washington Writers' Publishing House.