Henri Cole has written many powerful poems, but “Radiant Ivory” is one of my favorites, starting with the title, which seems so vibrant just on its own. I think it is the specificity of the language that makes the poem come to life for me. Phrases like “perforated silver box,” and snow as “white, insane, slathery,” reflecting the poet’s inner turmoil:
After the death of my father, I locked
myself in my room, bored and animal-like.
The travel clock, the Johnnie Walker bottle,
the parrot tulips—everything possessed his face,
chaste and obscure. Snow and rain battered the air
white, insane, slathery. Nothing poured
out of me except sensibility, dilated.
It was as if I were sub-born—preverbal,
truculent, pure—with hard ivory arms
reaching out into a dark and crowded space,
illuminated like a perforated silver box
or a little room in which glowing cigarettes
came and went, like souls losing magnitude,
but none with the battered hand I knew.
from Middle Earth, Farrar, Straus & Giroux