Suzanne Maxson


In a time before this time
I bought a plane ticket and ascended through the sky
to Los Angeles for the day just to see some murals
from the cave temples of Dunhuang. The line was long
even with a time-ticket and they herded us mercilessly
through the reconstructed caves replicating the darkness
of the temples with barely a minute to see the paintings
but it was an experience worth seeking. And then
I ate some lunch because I like a small meal after art
and museum food is often pretty good, and wandered
in the various beauty which is the Getty until it was time
to get back to LAX and catch a plane north to home.
Who lives in the privilege to do such a thing? I did
in the time before this time. Despite anxiety
about the cost I flew Virgin Atlantic (in their violet
illumination of the cabin) to London just to see
some paintings by Rothko and that was more
than my money’s worth as the capitalists say, a feast
in silence on abstraction. I’m running low on words
but to see requires no words, which is why to go alone
to art is so desirable and the particular wordlessness
within that solitude so glorious. Silence he said
is so accurate.

Once in a Blue Moon on All Hallow’s Eve
at the end of a long Leap Year: a stroke, and to those
neural threads where in the pons perception, attention
and memory entangle by subtle means there was a wound
rendering the air a bright translucent dimensional density
of motion, the space before me jelly through which
I found my way slowly, distracted and absorbed
by every beauty even in the form and utility
of that green plastic hospital mug. To be absorbed
into beauty cannot be undesirable, nor can it be
unwise to learn from the snail, and anyway the time
for ascending on a whim into the sky, unmindful
of planetary consequences, is over for all of us.
Go slowly now, understanding the art of the snail
in her silver trail.

The neurologist advises
(looking straight into my eyes) to savor
life on two feet and recommends a book by Ram Dass
whose practice was love in helplessness—a profound
practice as the doctor pointed out although my thought
left unsaid was of those devotees who wheeled him
through the airports and museums. The actual
question for me now is not of possibility but of desire
and whether I might desire ever again to leave home
for art or for love or forever not to leave home
where with little dog I live in long tranquil mornings
and crickety nights and might enjoy that monkish life
which for me has always had both abstract and
emotional attractions. But what I know is that it’s
all here, in the visible the tangible and the intangible
in this impermanent placement on the ground
called home, in this sufficiency of beauty and feeling
while I’m breathing

Southern Exposure

Frankenthaler, thanks

In fifty-one colors intended
she said to be only beauty

(despite telling myself
& little dog     who doesn’t mind

that the day is only white noise
to which we dance a jerky jig

while above the birds that day
pours into itself as night, not

of the birds nor in the blue
nor even as some meditative

moment winding into itself
but only in the movement)

appears in that paint
what is

All Right

Everything is all right
he said. That everything
is all right
the message delivered to me
from my cousin who visited on a whim
a psychic who told her someone
has a message, your uncle, the one
with a daughter has a message
for his daughter: that everything
is all right
. And so the message

was delivered although she was
skeptical because my father was
dead for more than a year
and this cousin far away never
thought of him nor of me, and because
she went with a friend to the psychic
only as a lark. And I do not believe
in the endurance of personality
after death and surely not in the form
of psychic messages from the dead
although my grandmother
did receive letters from the dead
in what she called automatic writing
but my father, the psychic said, desired
only that I hear this reassurance

that everything is all right even
that day, my mother wailing Don’t go
No don’t go & my urgency in his ear
Yes, you can go & with everything
else left unsaid in whirlwind around us
his hand emptied into mine and he did go.
And what I wanted was for everything
to be all right, that it be not chaos
nor my will nor the terror in her need.
And thus it is, in a moment which

might be that one, might be also
this one in the nature of time
as with the help of the Physicists
the Buddhists the Aboriginal people
we have come to understand it,
because forty years later everything
is all right
upon awakening today
in the bright room, all right in the yellow
and in the blue and even in the unjust
and violent world unfurling always into
chaos, where still there might be stars
in a night sky, time to breathe a little
longer and for everybody for even just
one nanomoment in a lifetime to be offered
the news that everything is all right
and feel that.

I do not believe that personality
endures after death but as for my father
it seems he acquired there some power
to offer authoritative reassurance,
the last word so to speak, about my life-
long entanglement with worry and doubt,
an offering which in retrospect
in prospect of its usefulness was there
as an expansion of presence
in his soft hand in my hands, felt
as yes, and found its way back weirdly
through my cousin, and in the forms
and the colors I arrange within
the rooms in which I practice the art
of routine, and as the sky
is always changing.

And I suppose this is a prayer
that every being in the depth
of their suffering might even for one
nanomoment in a lifetime be offered
a night sky of stars and from my dead father
the news that everything is all right
and feel that.

The Long Thought

The neuroscientists
located some places in the brain, a network
where apparently the catalog we call myself
lights up their brain-screens when intention takes a break—
posterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex
constructing the long thought called myself. I am
I am the person who

mother and child, my tentative hand
on the flesh of her arm, wishing to be beside her on the couch
but reaching for the ashtray she swats it away, and cruelly
I reduced her character to this, although that body
contained complexities not manifest in photographs
now confused with her stories, her stories with the catalog
of memory & with those stories wherein I wrote her life
as fiction in an effort to decipher the single remaining snapshot
2×2 inches & blurred of a little girl, short bob & bangs
as that mother. And all along she was? In her body surely
and in mine now as shadow, developing sometimes into presence
as the photograph once developed in its chemical bath (which
is a way to explain one effect
of aging and its ailments)
or of another moment only her words, no photograph
but which I remember as a photograph: on a park bench
holding the hand of a tiny girl wearing a brown coat
and a bonnet, whose white shoes/red shoes dangled.
and her first intention
to leave that child on the bench
but how she held on, clutching (my word) the little hand
(my hand) unable to let it go, and then the second intention.
but a timely rescue. The doctor diagnosed a suicidal mood.
Hysterectomy might open a mood like a wound. Bonnet
brown coat red shoes probably my embellishment. That she
clutched the little hand my embellishment, an effort
to understand. Park bench? Possibly all embellishment
of a fractured remark as she wandered in the urgency
of language vanishing into the factual tumor
as the long thought called Ruth
came to an end, entering mine.


Choosing to settle in mystery which is
preferable in any morning to the news

as good fortune gave me senses
and time to read & contemplate

that in the Peruvian Amazon for example
& elsewhere, a butterfly feeds on the tears

of a turtle. Those tears they say
are never shed in grief but only

as a physiological process, an excretion
of sodium, & the butterfly’s attendance

only to some nourishment there & not
a kiss upon that turtle’s grief nor even

the impulse to grace in such a kiss
but only supply & demand. I disagree.

Capitalism never satisfies and Darwin
only partly. Sometimes what we perceive

as the perfection of tenderness is just
that, presenting itself to perception

just as in Wales we met an old farmer
blessed by crooked teeth untouched

by any dentist, & love for these broken
brown teeth arose like love for all

we call human, the unAmerican
imperfection of his teeth, their beauty

beyond reason, arising still in dreams
as the meaning of life. So you see

how it is, the geography in all of it
& the shock of benevolence & how

we come to a kind of settlement
with what we have allowed

into understanding, how we keep on
coming into mystery, choosing it

An Offering of Vowel Sounds

According to a white-haired writer
the musician has notes for making music but the poet
has vowels.     think about wind     in Japanese maples.
thinking to read this book under my crooked hand
about the soul of an octopus     but unable.
to read. lacking concentration     thinking
one summer on the Strait, practicing departure
as line breaks, feeling for the first time movement
as wind in pines     undertaking perfection
as a celadon Hermes 3000 typewriter
in a battered VW van, campground
on the water, a cushion, a mug

Now move some furniture. Carry a painting
to this wall from that one, table better there
than here, lamp four inches farther left on that table
now get up and move it back again to get it
right, precisely. thereby disturbing little dog
at rest. all this compulsive up & down
a seasonal weeding out
out out of mental disorder.
But I do have vowels.     In the subjectivity
of the vowel sound, assonance
might open like a state of grace.

Every death a disappearance into bone or shell
& what to make of it. Make home
in memoriam of those
disappeared into these
objects of beauty and devotion.
into photographs     (the camera
re-engineered our experience of death. of life)
But equally floats this home     on joyful motion
as a Tibetan prayer begins
Having obtained this excellent free and well-favored life
and it is

and in vowel sounds I call out to my children
Here I am for you, imperfect
but present     into the future
which already is here

Questions Before Sleep About Iris Murdoch

To pierce the veil of selfish consciousness
and enter the world as it really is—this unselfing
she described as an effort of goodness, and art
as an occasion for that release
into the world as it is
and wrote that the essence of art is love
in its many dimensions, and that love, like art
is the discovery of reality.

It’s possible I have her thinking wrong.
I encountered her words in a casual way
and not from careful reading of her work
but I wrote this down and I wonder now

about her last years
how that unselfing we call dementia
changed her mind. No effort of goodness in it, no art.
Did she pierce the veil of selfish consciousness?
Did she enter the world as it really is
or was it lost to her?
And love?

Suzanne Maxson was raised in suburban Southern California (with a fortunate interlude in Iran), and migrated north in 1972 to the Russian River watershed of Sonoma County. As a public high school teacher she integrated the arts and literature with history, social justice, and comparative religion. Movement, a collection of her work, will be published by Fernwood Press in November 2023.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.