The Case

The Case

by Laura Moriarty



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The Case by Laura Moriarty

Poetry. "THE CASE, besides being a mystery to be solved (where is the dead beloved, what happened to him?) and a literal case or box containing items (as with Duchamp's Boxes) pertinent to the larger work (the 'wedding'; or past and present lives) also strikes the reader as a private enclosure in which the poet confronts herself and what has happened. This space is sometimes theatrical or artifact-like, sometimes inclusive of the natural world; real objects and present experience can take part in the confrontation. Experience is encountered not described, the present is what it's like when it's happening even if it's pain. Though THE CASE is a private domain it isn't exclusive: the poet is alone thinking, yet others feel nearby in their warmth. THE CASE is appropriately muted, but not reticent. Its colors seem wisely chosen. It's full of light, ocean light, house light, the light of a shadow puppet show. The subject of the book isn't at all darkness, it's the peculiarly lit and peculiarly gracious space in which rituals of loss take place."—Alice Notley

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781882022366
Publisher: Hunt, John Publishing
Publication date: 10/01/1998
Pages: 124
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Laura Moriarty was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and in Northern California. She attended the University of California at Berkeley. She was the Director of the American Poetry Archives at the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University for many years. She has taught at Naropa University and Mills College and is now the Deputy Director of Small Press Distribution. Her books include A TONALIST (Nightboat Books, 2010), A SEMBLANCE: SELECTED AND NEW POEMS, 1975-2007 (Omnidawn, 2007), ULTRAVIOLETA (Atelos, 2006), SELF-DESTRUCTION (Post-Apollo Press, 2005), NUDE MEMOIR (Krupskaya, 2000), THE CASE (0 Books, 1998), SPICER'S CITY (Poetry New York, 1998), SYMMETRY (Avec Books, 1996), L'Archiviste (Zasterle 1991), LIKE ROADS (Kelsey St. Press, 1990), and RONDEAUX (Roof Books, 1990).



Date of Birth:

December 24, 1979

Place of Birth:

Honolulu, Hawaii


B.S.W., University of Kansas, 1993; M.A. in English, University of Kansas, 2000

Read an Excerpt


History will be "effective" to the extent that it introduces discontinuity into our very being.... Knowledge is not made for comprehension, it is made for cutting. MICHEL FOUCAULT, Nietzsche, la généalogie, l'histoire

One feels the cut. Existence leaves off from time to time. History is what we are left with. Reality is conflict. It is compromised. It is and is not the case. This writing is a performance. A display. It occupies a place on both sides of paradise. There are objects and we are among them. There is love and daily life and, strangely, faith.

A silent call, a theater Irreducible to gesture Couldn't speak, were already elsewhere JERRY ESTRIN, Rome, A Mobile Home

Thinking as breath, as memory, as survival, as form generates the performance. The procedures are determined by the location.

here we are, on old story, another old story. backing off. that is not you. yes. it was an outward display of the symptoms, the wounds. I was cut. you cut me. the wound healing beneath your hand. you did not know that. I am telling you now. BEVERLY DAHLEN, A Reading 1-7

Chapter One


These plant epiphanies This residence underneath Stemmed and read Someone at this feast

Is dead already Is not Me with no meaning Is not love Is

Leaving life behind Red on my handscrushed Seeds loosely red Read on my chest and heart Dark

No longer No drama presented No law of silence Needed She was the secret

In this place he was Event without article Not a personal god Went off without her Without content

A stagehand carries a mirror through. It's supposed to be hell but is just the neighborhood. A crew is here full of the illusions of their story. We don't know them. Neither I, wandering, lanterns suspended inappropriately above me, or you, freshly dead, would care to know. Only later can one see them, only not them, but the absent performers. It will be a false memory pieced together. If time stops pounding the ears like a heart loose in the body for a moment while we watch, it will be a success. "The triumph of death" we might call it in spite of its real name. So we can call it out.

Through the window Not falling thrown With sudden force The household Out

Tables stained chairs torn and Wobbling anyway taken By strangers in trucks Used up Lamps broken notebooks

Ink smeared Face like the stain Of ashes ashes on the roof Of course this tomb Is a house

This airless metal Number burned circle Doused and scattered Plain granite Hell is heaven is home

This goddamned leaking sieve of a pen like a slow detonation. If I could just get the right dress I could get it off me. Go back and keep it from exploding. The pool of saliva that was left like a last clear thought. Tip of the hat. Final handshake shaken repeatedly. Spit like acid. A solid lake in a terrain which can be picked up and examined. The world as model of the world. Life as ending. The sun on my table burning as I fall, as I wake up.

It goes without saying I loved you more than god "I am cancer. I am death." Neither of us wrote that The face wrapped

The eyes gone Stuck at the beginning A mask clings to your face like an animal An ordinary thing like laughter Sleeps here

In a dream my reader tears open my stomach the better to read and I think, "Good, I'm finally dead or asleep and am cheerful because change is the only way I can tell time now." In fact, I am laughing because I don't know what else to do with my breath. There is so much of it. All I know. What's here is there. Keeping up with the air.

With hidden noise Black leather and glass Brushed every day like teeth Fresh widow unfastened Reading is breathing



    ink, pencil, crayon, talcum powder and chocolate

    It means nothing other than "to close," as the eyes do after seeing

    An imitation of events

    With a transparent name

    What will happen next is described elsewhere

    A loss of dignity and of humility

    Later it was hilarious to look back at that chance

    In order that one might hear what it was forbidden to hear

    The cost of initiation

    The idea of possession, the obsession with payment

    Things that were worn are displayed and used

    Here the innumerable paths that lead to the underworld meet

The ones who preside over these mysteries are not unaware of their significance. Their task is to facilitate the immediate exchange. They can't allow themselves to be distracted by history.

There is a small structure around which a building is eventually assembled.

    A photograph of a door

    The official, the deity, oneself, the city, the users, the boxes, the case

    The disclosure

Or, in the present case, nothing reappears, searching for her nothing, for a part of herself in her nothing.

    It can be inferred from the testimony

    He seems to hover musing, before his subterranean journey

    His eyes are closed and he is leaning against a rock.

    Automatically, words are repeated that soothe us

Dragging himself back to the present, he scribbles dutifully on a piece of paper

    Comedy. Looking for the wall, he runs into the door.

He occupies the city in an unknown and then in completely known way.

    She is his companion in the search

    The speech

    A wasp heavy with heat. Which side of the glass are we on?

    We are aware of the demands of our connection

What is said remains functionally untrue, that is to say unacknowledged. Nevertheless it is this information she acts upon.

Though he ignores her mythological attributes, he knows of them

He is the agent of the underworld in the old sense

Because they speak different languages she has to repeat - every repetition exposing a different hole in her story

The telling superseded itself. It was over before beginning. It was neither literal nor genuine.

The peeping occurs through the holes.

    The box

    The contents of the first box are entirely written.

    The box is a notebook.

    There are several notebooks, each deciding the case a different way.

    There are facts.

    The fact of being the woman left in the room, representing the sun

    An element of "real" reality is incorporated. It designates both a pattern and an objective, which have independent existence.

    "And on the 'French grass' he painted her"

    He claims there is no ending because there is no case. It is open-ended.

    She respects him for counting the money


As it begins there is a reenactment which produces something from her throat, a sound. This is a familiar threshold in her thought. It seems necessary to possess all the facts and to account for them with multiple narratives. She wants, especially, to account for the impossible explanations which are left according to the old dictum, after the possible are eliminated. Looking back, what seems impossible is that the event has occurred at all.

"She sat: she walk'd among the ornaments solemn mourning."

It is like every case in which the roles of the participants merge. They hold onto their identities, returning to their imagined security at the slightest provocation. This is where she has them. During the transition, information comes out. Her own loss of identity hastens the process. She is careless of her safety. She never feels safe. She and the others, the witnesses, especially the suspects, are hopelessly mingled. When most lost in the role, when most defenseless and overcome, something appears. She examines it like an addict fingering a half-burned empty vial. Hers is a vague but fixed concentration.

The picture of dust

The glass is netted with metal like a jail

    The bride

Thirty years later the fingerprints are still on the gun, the knife, the wall of the room

She sits in the room, sweating and considering the event. One can't be plain enough in the face of it. The evidence remains stubborn, mute before a shrieking which also obscures. "Is anything objectively true?" she wonders, picturing the world away from the crime. He enjoys being the suspect, the priest, the victim.

The peeping occurs as he doesn't turn away. Who is it that is watching? Which of us would not?

The book is in the box. There is, on the glass table, a book in a box made of objects. The objects are not mementoes. They are the reduced and generic elements of a temple. They evoke memory in different ways. Like pieces in a game, props for a demonstration, They occupy a place between words and objects because they are small and enclosed, portable. We remember carrying them with us.

One of us has watched an object become separated from a word. The object is taken away. The word remains. The word, a name, has the qualities of being both soft and sharp. The name becomes interchangeable with something banal like anguish, but doesn't have the limits of such a term. It can mean joy. It is often means simply that a stiff hand is held out.

She manages the emergency somewhat absently, though, even more than the victims, she is endangered by the situation. The thinking required is indirect, the requirement absolute. Mistakes are revealing in a direct ratio to the peril associated with them.

A man becomes silvered and settled. He has any name. What is in the middle of him? Is this what he calls his luck?

"This equanimity," he says "my politics, as you call them, cost me my life every morning as I wake up."

That small trickle of blood from the ear, certainly an indication of a mind in trouble, a heart in jeopardy. "But I am so happy," he said.

How could you have known me when I hadn't read that book?

There is a situation but it is not the one she has originally perceived. Her task is to keep involved in the case just enough to catalyze any aspects of it capable of being affected, while observing those whose existence will constitute the outcome. She is surprised to find herself in the latter realm.

One professional takes care of another.

If the objects in the box can be known, how much more so can our exchanges, my speaking, your way of making your hands burst like suns.

artiste défroqué, artista fracasado.

An old series of communications means differently when finally found. Context in this case a kind of evaporating wetness. Huge thundering groans described in a sentence. How is it possible to describe the smell? The sweat and the moisture on the grass seem the same in retrospect.

    The release

As an interrogator, she found her own silence embarrassing

The dust also settles and is redolent of a dusty world.

Things that are the case and those that are not merge. The difficulty remains. Because nothing fits into the new box, she finds herself carrying the old box around, throwing its contents into the ocean, reassembling them, finding statues there, collapsing, getting up, falling down.

An officer of the court executes a clown routine.

That she documents the event is fine. She can have me. She can consider this a verbal agreement. Witnessed by reeds whining in the background and the swimmers suffusing the foreground. One like a bird in a static wind. A ship floats in over the buildings. Gives up and returns.

An agent earns his pay for the week. An informant retains his honor. He unburdens himself. They know something together. Her own speech is persuasive but she skips that part. She is less present during each interview. Vanquished by her own interrogation. Her ability to be stunned wears out.

We look back on not being able to close the case as if from a thousand years. There isn't anything to say about it. The boat plods on in a trajectory that lacks the coherence of a crime story, though it has all of the elements. They shimmer forgetting to be present. What could bring anyone to such a point?

He regains his humility. She is recognized as having stuck with it. This seems like a promotion. The unsolved nature of the case is the institution they have become.

There is a stepped place like a mountain or a tent. A child carries a cake with the words "Don't know" written on it. The door to the office is left open. The lock untouched.

under construction

Peeping Tom

The hand of the artist is left out

Table of Contents

The Case16
The Temple24
Casual power27
The Interview29
People see it32
Before the invention33
Exact form35
"Action lingering in the water"36
Varieties of Sky38
Ash Wednesday40
Puppet Light43
The BeautifulHouse55
In thinking59
Circumstances of the Poem61
Portrait (forgetting)79
Formless Stanzas82
Spiral Jetty85
Symmetrical Biography91
Blake Varied92
Root Canal93
Gradual and Sudden94
Simultaneous Journal97
Ghost Atlas108

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