Subterranean: Poems

Subterranean: Poems

by Jill Bialosky

Paperback(First Paperback Edition)

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Jill Bialosky follows her acclaimed debut collection, The End of Desire, with this powerful sequence of poems that probes the subterranean depths of eros. Gerald Stern has called Bialosky “the poet of the secret garden, the place, at once, of grace and sadness,” and here she enters that garden again, blending the classical with the contemporary in bold considerations of desire, fertility, virginity, and childbirth. Written against the idealizations of romantic love and motherhood, she tells of the loss of one child and the birth of another, the fierce passions of life before children, the seductions of suicide, and the comforts of art. Throughout, she braids and unbraids the distinct yet often inseparable themes of motherhood, love, and sexuality. “When he comes to me,” she writes,

half-filled glass in his hand, wanting me to touch him, I hear you stir in your crib. I know what your body      
  feels like.
The soft skin of a flower, not bruised, not yet
  in torment . . .

Subterranean is the moving and intimate account of the emergence of a female psyche. Like the figures of Persephone and Demeter, who appear in various forms in these poems, Bialosky finds a strange beauty in grief, and emerges from the realms of temptation with insight and distinction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375709722
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/04/2003
Edition description: First Paperback Edition
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.89(w) x 8.33(h) x 0.26(d)

About the Author

Jill Bialosky was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She studied at Ohio University and received a Master of Arts from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. Her first book, The End of Desire, was published by Knopf in 1997, and her poems appear regularly in journals such as Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Agni Review, and The New Republic. Bialosky is an editor at W. W. Norton and teaches at Columbia University; she lives in New York City with her husband and son.

Read an Excerpt

A Child Banishes the Darkness

The child presides over our lives like the
Blinding presence of tall white pines. In the
Low room she hovers; she is the dark un-
tamed place, like a thicket in a neglect-
ed wood where I fall to after each new loss, the unforgotten dream buried like a small toy under layers of frozen un-raked leaves. She is the hidden secret we don’t talk about because there is noth-
ing left to say. So much snow on the roofs of tall buildings, along the cobbled streets,
in the eaves, and on the narrow bridge and in the quiet palm of the newborn trees.
Nothing left to fear. All the earth is calm.


She did not know when it would happen or how it would overtake her or whether she would allow herself.
All I know is that she could not take it anymore lying day after day underneath the hollow tree, waiting,
consumed by a kind of fire,
wondering if there is a type of love that saves us or whether there was more to the world than the familiar paradise of her mother's complicated and vivid garden.
She smelled nectar in the labored-over chrysanthemum and amaryllis,
but could not taste it.
I know if it were a flower it would have bloomed in the cumulus overhead void of volition and sin,
translucent as the filmy underside of a leaf.
If it were an animal she would have followed it,
but it was amorphous as feeling, weightless as dust,
turbulent as an entire undisclosed universe radiating from the inner core beneath the earth and, still, she longed for it.
Restless, she wandered from the elm to the school-yard to smother an intensity she could not squelch or simmer.
The wind swooned. Cement cracked. Deep into the underbelly light traveled, no one in sight but his immense shadow,
and then a figure appeared out of the imagined dream and matched it. So powerful, not for who he was but for how her mind had magnified him like a bug underneath cool glass,
every antenna and tentacle aquiver.
No sign of where she had been or who she came from. Only knowledge that it would never be re-created except by this: putting words down on a page and that she had forever compromised the joy of summer for a dismal, endless winter.
And as the field of force gathered,
raping every last silvery bough,
tantalizing each limb,
she forgot even the feel of herself.
When it was over she felt moisture. Rain.

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