Susan Howe is a finalist for the 2016 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for The Quarry. Moving backward in time, this collection examines figures such as Wallace Stevens, Henry David Thoreau, meteorologist Charles Sanders Peirce, and filmmaker and photographer Chris Marker. The collection speaks to Howe’s unique artistic process as an accomplished poet. The following is an essay from the collection.

In memory of Peter H. Hare (1935-2008)

It was too quiet on the morning of January 3rd when I got up at eight after a good night’s sleep. Too quiet. I showered, dressed, then came downstairs and put some water on the boil for instant oatmeal. Peter always woke up very early, he would have been at work in his study, but there was no sign of his having breakfasted. I looked out the window and saw the New York Times still on the driveway in its bright blue plastic wrapper. Had he gone for a walk? I checked to see if his slippers were on the floor by the window seat where he usually left them when he went out. They weren’t there. Why? The water was boiling, I poured it over the cereal, stirred it, then stopped. The house was so still. I called his name. No answer. Was he sick or had he overslept? I remember thinking I shouldn’t eat until I was sure he was all right. We had a running joke that at seventy anything might happen so if one of us didn’t appear in the morning by nine, the other should check. I called his name again. Again, no answer. Maybe he didn’t hear me because he was taking a shower. I went into his room. He was lying in his bed with his eyes closed. I knew when I saw him with the CPAP mask over his mouth and nose and heard the whooshing sound of air blowing air that he wasn’t asleep. No.

Starting from nothing with nothing when everything else has been said


“O My Very Dear Child. What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.” On April 3, 1758, Sarah Edwards wrote this in a letter to her daughter Esther Edwards Burr when she heard of Jonathan’s sudden death in Princeton. For Sarah all works of God are a kind of language or voice to instruct us in things pertaining to calling and confusion. I love to read her husband’s analogies, metaphors, and similes.

For Jonathan and Sarah all rivers run into the sea yet the sea is not full, so in general there is always progress as in the revolution of a wheel and each soul comes upon the call of God in his word. I read words but don’t hear God in them.


On the morning of January 2nd, we took the train into Manhattan to be part of my son’s noon wedding at City Hall. That afternoon we couldn’t find seats together on the crowded peak hour Metro North from Grand Central so we sat apart. It was dark when we arrived at New Haven and crossed the track for the Shoreline connection to Guilford. When we got off I walked quickly across the parking lot to the car. He followed more slowly. I wondered why, but it was so cold I didn’t bother to look back. At home we cooked up some vegetables and pasta. After dinner he said he was tired and would go straight to bed.


“Oh that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart…. We are all given to God: and there I am, and love to be.” I admire the way thought contradicts feeling in Sarah’s furiously calm letter.

We can’t be limited to just this anxious life.


Somewhere I read that relations between sounds and objects, feelings and thoughts, develop by association; language attaches to and envelops its referent without destroying or changing it—the way a cobweb catches a fly.


Now—putting bits of memory together, trying to pick out the good while doing away with the bad—I’m left with one overwhelming impression—the unpresentable violence of a negative double.


He was lying with his head on his arm, the way I had often seen him lie asleep. I thought of Steerforth’s drowned body in David Copperfield, also the brutality of sending young children away to boarding school in order to forge important ties for future life. Though Steerforth is a sadistic character his perfect name forms a second skin. Something has to remain to rest a soul against stone.


The CPAP mask was over his face because he had sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. When the mask is plugged in and running, pressure greater than the surrounding atmosphere is enough to keep the upper airways from becoming narrowed or blocked. If he felt anything unusual, surely he would have tried to remove the cumbersome thing. It was still running in place and fogged up.

Land of darkness or darkness itself you shadow mouth.


A cold clear day. I’m at the computer in his study deleting spam, saving folders and e-mails for the Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy, a magazine he co-edited for many years. I scroll to mail dated 1/2/08. There’s a note from a colleague concerning the annual meeting of the eastern division of the American Philosophical Association in Baltimore they attended the week before. “We all need quiet time now after the busy fall—Shannon.”

That night or was it early morning, Peter took eternal wordlessness into himself.


Some paperwhites he loved to plant and bring to flower are thriving in our living room. Paperwhites are in the daffodil family so have their sweet spring scent. Blooming in winter they represent happiness that costs next to nothing simply by receiving the sun’s brightness, repose and harmony. On the computer screen I find a short essay he was writing on poetry and philosophy but never showed me. There’s a letter to his first wife’s brother, signed, “Peter and Sukey.” I wish we were Hansel and Gretel with pebbles as a hedge against the day before and the day after.

Once you admit that time past is actually infinite, being a child gradually fades out.


Looking over autobiographical fragments he wrote during the years following his first wife’s death every one of them begins with his shock at her absence. If you looked through my papers until now, you would find a former dead husband at the center. We had almost stopped needing to summon the others—not quite. Not if you rely on written traces.

Fallible and faithful—what makes loyalty so righteous in measurable space? Forever following a river to the ramparts where they form a single plume in the center we are together in our awareness of the great past founded by Daphne and David. Everything appears in a deliberately constructed manner as if the setting of our story was always architectural.


“At any rate.” Time and again you repeated this phrase. Often you had a hard time touching down in conversation—waving your arms and going off on tangents before coming the long way round to where you started. “Bang for the buck.” I was impatient with your verbal tics. “All squared away.” Now I would turn to listen with elation.


Today I found I had forgotten to pay the land tax due the first of January so there’s an added punishment fee of one hundred and twenty-six dollars. If only we could return to December so I could let you know I needed you because I know you needed to be needed

as vast a need as at this moment.


“You can save money—it’s to save you.” 

The imposing front door of Peter’s large house in the Central Park section of Buffalo was simple mahogany with a polished brass knocker at its center. Shortly after we met he said why don’t you just leave your rented place and come live with me here. In a primogenial sense it was the first wife’s territory. I didn’t share her taste. Nevertheless, old family oil portraits, various objects from the China Trade, engravings of genteel nineteenth-century Episcopalian ministers, and over the dining room table a painting of “The US Squadron Commanded by Comd. S. Rodgers sailing from Port Mahon. Respectfully dedicated to M. C. Perry Esq. of the U.S.N. by his most obt. Servant S. Cabrolla, Gibralta, 10 May 1826” in its solid wood frame beckoned me into an environment where ancestors figured as tender grass springing out of the earth. There they were, saying “Susan, child of our history, come home, com on in.”


Maybe there is some not yet understood return to people we have loved and lost. I need to imagine the possibility even if I don’t believe it.


Now if I think about that door, I remember my mother reading Hans Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” aloud when we lived in Buffalo during the months after Pearl Harbor was bombed. The match girl is so poor she is anonymous. Huddled in the snow outside some houses on New Year’s Eve she strikes one last wick to warm her fingers. Light flares, and the wall of a building is suddenly transparent as scrim. She sees a table with roast goose, pears, all sorts of food on beautiful china; the happiness and light inside surrounds her.

What treasures of knowledge we cluster around. Fear—reunited with other pre-communicable penumbral associations. God is an epigraph inscribed on memory. Blown back among ghosts—our abstract Parent restores order with covering rituals.


Inside the Buffalo house the room I loved most was the study upstairs. He rarely used it then except as storage space for his many books. A large dilapidated desk that his father, a modernist architect, designed and constructed during the 1930s was littered with old syllabi, letters and journals. A worn wall-to-wall carpet hushed the place and I had the same intense impression of the past pressing heavily on the present I often feel when I’m along with books and papers. “I’ll go to him—I’ll find him,” I thought, while rifling through old photograph albums. You could say I was intruding on another family’s need to keep close once and for all—but relic rows of figures, once aware of the fact of being photographed, now enclosed in a paper world of their own, seemed to offer reluctant consent to being viewed face-to-face, in combined string voice. 


I’ve been reading some of W.H. Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror. One beautiful sentence about the way we all reach and reach but never touch.

A skinny covering overspreads our bones and our arms are thin wings.


In an early morning half-waking dream you were lying on the bed beside me in a dark suit. I recently touched your black jacket, the one you loved we bought together on sale two years ago in Barney’s. We were thinking about getting another this month because you had worn the original to pieces—it’s in the closet now, an object for storage beside your ashes. Maybe the jacket was in my mind as distant dream knowledge of the way one figure can substitute for another with a cord attached so what is false gives life to what is fair. I thought you were really you until I woke up back in myself.


History intersects with unanswered questions while life possesses us, so we never realize to the full one loyal one—only an elegiac ideal. I remember needing to take off and turn off the fogged-up plastic sleep apnea mask.

Your head was heavy as marble against the liberty of life.


The paperwhites are blooming wonderfully. They resemble February in its thin clarity. Spare white blooms against watery green leaves and white and off-white pebbles around each ocher half-exposed bulb: the blue hyacinth I bought at Stop & Shop is also flowering. Alone with the tremendous silence of your absence, I want to fill this room between our workspaces with flowers because light flows through them—their scent is breath or spirit of life against my dread of being alone—of being cheated by people—today the electrician—next week Greco and Haynes for the well water filter.


Sometimes, introducing himself to people, he enjoyed adding, “Peter Hare as in Peter Rabbit.”

         Esther (1695-1766)

         Elizabeth (1697-1733)

         Anne (1699-1790)

         Mary (1701-1776)

         Jonathan (1703-1758)

         Eunice (1705-1788)

         Abigail (1707-1764)

         Jerusha (1710-1729)

         Hannah (1713-1773)

         Lucy (1715-1736)

         Martha (1718-1794)

If your names are only written and no “originals” exist, do you have a real existence for us? What happens to names when time stops?

Answer: Nothing happens: There is no when.


Jonathan Edwards was the only son among ten unusually tall sisters their minister father jokingly referred to as his “sixty feet of daughters.” Esther Stoddard Edwards, also known for her height, taught her eleven children and others in Northampton in a school that consisted of a downstairs room in their farmhouse. Later they received the same education Timothy provided to local boys in his parish in East Windsor, Connecticut. The girls were tutored along with their brother (in some cases they tutored him) in theology, philosophy, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history, grammar and mathematics. All except Mary were sent to finishing school in Boston. All married late for that period. Mary remained single in order to care for her parents and grandparents. The Beinecke Library in New Haven owns a vast collection of Edwards family papers. It contains letters, diaries, notebooks, essays, and more than twelve hundred sermons; but apart from a journal kept by Esther Edwards Burr (Jonathan and Sarah’s eldest daughter) after her marriage, and a few letters to and from the sisters, daughters, and Sarah, all that remains of this 18th-century family’s impressive tradition of female learning are a bedsheet Esther Stoddard Edwards probably spun and embroidered herself, Sarah’s wedding dress fragment, and several pages from Hannah Edwards Wetmore’s private writings—along with posthumous excerpts collected and transcribed with commentary by her daughter Lucy Wetmore Whittlesey.

The Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford owns a fragment of Mary Edwards’s crewel embroidery, and a pair of silk shoes “worked by Miss Hannah Edwards daughter of the Rev. Timothy Edwards, wife of Seth Wetmore, Esq. of Middletown.”

Only tossing color coins into a well of language, while faces of magic contained in little stories outside the purview of philosophy scramble to help each other—quid pro quo.


The folio-size double leaves Jonathan, Sarah, and his ten tall sisters wrote on were often homemade: hand-stitched from linen rags salvaged by women from worn out clothing. Grassroots out-of-tune steps and branches, quotations of psalms, dissonant scripture clusters, are pressed between coarse cardboard covers with frayed edges. The rag paper color has grown deeper and richer in some. One in particular, with a jacket he constructed from old newspapers then tied together at the center with string, looks like a paper model for a canoe. The minister or possibly some later scholar has christened his antique paper vessel “The Doctrine of [the] Justice and Grace of God, Explained and Defended, and the Contrary Errors that Have of Late Prevailed, Confuted . . .”


Even if ideas don’t exist without the mind, there may be copies or resemblances. I never clearly understood what “academic” meant in relation to philosophy’s defining essence, but Peter always used the term when speaking of the structure of his intellectual life. Perhaps he was suddenly indifferent to this self-willed world of cultural symbols, intellectual-historical records, competing research topics, future career trajectories—making a splash with books.


There was a curtness to the way he left. After Mark and Frances were married, our wedding party lunched together at the Odeon in Tribeca. I remember he was unusually quiet as if he had a prevision of his own unmaking and felt the cinders in our happy chatter.


It’s snowing heavily and due to continue. Trapped in the house by weather I have been going over his photographs. None of us (apart from his colleagues at Buffalo) encouraged the hobby, certainly not this family of artists. In October he few to Romania for an international conference on Pragmatism, society, and politics at the Constantin Brancusi University in Târgu-Jiu, where he was giving a paper. While there, every minute he could spare from meetings and panels, he photographed houses, gardens, sculptures, and churches until his Hasselblad camera was crushed when a car backed over it in a parking lot. This could have been an omen. The blood clot that later killed him probably formed in his leg during the long fights over and back. What if our interior innermost mortal happiness is all we see without ever being able to show? I wonder what to do now with these truancies from professional philosophy.


          C.O. Milford Pa. 1904.
          The way bleak north
          presents itself here

          as Heraclitean error
          driving and driving
          thought and austerity nearer to
          lyricism Often as
          black ice

I wrote this poem on a winter day in 1998 when my mother was still alive, and I hadn’t’t met Peter. I had been reading Xerox copies of the last journal pages from the microform edition of the manuscripts of Charles Sanders Peirce. If you take immediate environment into account, during the winter of 1904 things were threadbare for the putative father of Pragmatism. No peace in projects—no firewood for warmth—a few crotchety word lists used as ornaments or phantom limbs—I remember the way the lines came to me suddenly, after reading the journal, and how quiet it seemed inside the room with soft snow falling outside.

Nietzsche says that for Heraclitus all contradictions run into harmony, even if they are invisible to the human eye. Lyric is transparent—as hard to see as black or glare ice. The paved roadway underneath is our search for aesthetic truth. Poetry, false in the tricks of its music, draws harmony from necessity and random play. In this aggressive age of science, sound-colored secrets, unperceivable in themselves, can act as proof against our fear of emptiness.

Sorrows have been passed and unknown continents approached.


          “au′top•sy, n. [Gr. αυτοψια; from αυτος, self, and όψις,
          sight.] Personal observation or examination; ocular view.
Autopsy convinceth us that it hath this use.’ Ray.”

The final seven-page Autopsy Report from the Department of Pathology arrived in the mail today.



Pathologist, Demetrios Braddock, M.D.

Report Electronically Signed Out.—

“Eyes: The body is received with the eyes previously removed.”


Dear Dr. Braddock:

If you die in your sleep do you know you are dead? Your clinically precise word order is a failure of dream-work. It gives an effect of harmless vacancy. Why this violent tearing away?



An old friend came for the day and brought me the exhibition catalogue for Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions. A week later I went in to see the show at the Metropolitan. After the first visit I returned for solace and pardon, several times.

The actors I encounter in Poussin’s world have names ingrafted from myth and scripture. At the dawn of thought river gods are keeping watch. Venus offers herself to the gaze of shepherds. Is she sleeping or pretending? Saint Jerome is kneeling in prayer by a cross. Some people follow nature’s movement others are blind to divine and supernatural light. Eurydice mortally wounded by a viper, sees her fate. No one else does. Orpheus obliviously strums his lyre for the wedding guests who have placed themselves in position for the familiar song; everything in proportion.

In 2000 the Getty Museum hung two landscape paintings by Nico-las Poussin—Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake, then on loan from the National Gallery in London, and their own Landscape with a Calm, alone together in one small exhibition room. T. J. Clark, who was there on a Getty Fellowship, decided to describe his experience of viewing them each day at different hours. In The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing he describes his process as “writing pictures to death, which is what most writing on art inevitably ends up doing, to have always embedded in the form of the narrative the (false) suggestion that once upon a time, back there and in the present, at the end and the beginning, the picture lived everlastingly here and now. Among many other things Landscape with a Snake . . . puts that fiction of visibility to the test.” Some art historians believe Poussin conceived Landscape with Orpheus and Eurydice as a pendent to Snake.

For Jonathan Edwards, snakes represent the venomous nature of the speech of wicked men. Tongues are weapons. “They have sharpened their tongue like a serpent.”


Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun.

I’m entering this open prose area in order to assuage the early loss of an early father in an earlier grandfather scion childself. Names are signs for ideas settled in the mind. Poussin and Edwards are supposed to exist until there is no such thing. No steady name.


In Ovid’s Metamorphoses the fruit of the mulberry tree is forever turned black by the red blood of Pyramus. This is how Poussin introduces the narrative of love turning to misfortune into a composition he originally meant to present as merely a Landscape with a Storm. “All the figures one sees there are playing their roles according to the weather; some are fleeing through the dust, in the direction of the wind that is driving them along . . . others, on the contrary, are going against the wind, walking with difficulty, covering their eyes with their hands. . . . In the foreground of the painting, one sees Pyramus lying dead on the ground, and near him Thisbe, who has succumbed to grief.” Clark says that in Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe—everything ominous in Snake—size, scale of the figures in relation to the whole, use of light, intensity of dumb show, framing and shaping—runs over the edge into chaos.


By 1650 Poussin’s hands were shaking so badly he was painting through the tremors; in spite of his affliction the surface of the lake at the center of Pyramus is smooth as glass.

This still eye reflects a neutral “you” that is me; and yet secret. Who can hold such mirroring cheap? It’s a vital aspect of marriage and deep friendship.


Jean Redpath is singing “The Raggle Taggle Gypsies” on my iPod. Her voice brings my mother into the room with poems and ballads we read together during the Second World War when my father was away in Europe. She preferred ones, like Yeats’s “The Stolen Child” or Arnold’s “The Forsaken Merman,” where people disappear into never-answered questions. Listening now, it’s as if a gate opens through mirror-uttering to an unknowable imagining self in heartbeat range.

When we listen to music we are also listening to pauses called “rests.” “Rests” could be wishes that haven’t yet betrayed themselves and can only be transferred evocatively.

I wonder at vocalism’s ability to rephrase or reenact meaning and goodness even without the wished-for love. Can a trace become the thing it traces, secure as ever, real as ever—a chosen set of echo-fragments? The sound of Peter’s voice communicated something apart from the words he was saying. Listening—I experienced early memories or mental images in distant counterpoint.


Both parents died young. He often said that after his first wife’s early death in 1995 he felt sure he wouldn’t’t live into his seventies. As if the car, with his mother, father, and Daphne inside, was waiting at the door.


An official in the faux-Gothic gatehouse at the Delaware Avenue entrance to Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery, where urns containing “cremains” are officially approved and money for the internment changes hands, politely insisted he knew Mr. Hare had a wife, but I wasn’t her.

“We’re together, we’re together,” I told myself. All I lack is your personal name on a tilted stone.


GEN MSS 151, Box 24, Folder 1379. Hannah Edwards, Diary Fragment/ ca. 1739

“My Dear Children,

What shall I leave to you or what shall I say to you. Fain would I do something while I live that may contribute to your real benefit and advantage—our lives are all exceeding brittle and uncertain . . .”


The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, one of the largest buildings in the world devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts, was constructed from Vermont marble and granite, bronze and glass, during the early 1960s. The Library’s digital photography studio is located in a windowless room downstairs. Here objects to be copies according to the state-of-the-art North Light HID Copy Light system are prepared for reproduction. Each light is packed with 900 watts of ceramic discharge lamps and requires a typical 15-ampere, 120-volt outlet. The lamps are doubly fan-cooled, with one chamber for the hot (lamp) side and one fan for the electronic side. A diffusion screen spreads light evenly onto the copyboard while protecting the art object or manuscript from heat. This can be replaced with white Plexiglas for three-dimensional art work. Black curtains surrounding the copy table protect the photographer’s vision and at the same time prevent light intensity from bleeding. One or two stuffed oblong cloth containers, known in the trade as snakes, hold the volume open. Facing pages are held down flat with transparent plastic strips.

“…& when I was out of my head, & thought myself sick & lost, or at a River Side & among strangers that would not direct me home.”

That’s Hannah Edwards remembering her delirium during an illness in 1736. Under the fan-cooled copy lights, she speaks to herself of the loneliness of being Narcissus.


On the Shoreline Express I like to sit on the side where between Stony Creek and Guilford I can see my neighbor’s house, and in winter a little further up the road catch a split-second glimpse of ours through the window as the train passes. I suppose I’m trying to capture a moment before mirror vision—because when you view objects that lie in front of your eyes as well as others in the distance behind, what you see in the mirror has already been interpreted—so far as you can tell.

More and more I have the sense of being present at a point of absence where crossing centuries may prove to be like crossing languages. Soundwaves. It’s the difference between one stillness and another stillness. Even the “invisible” scot tape I recently used when composing “Frolic Architecture” leaves traces on paper when I run each original sheet through the Canon copier.


“Love in a Universe of Chance”

Yesterday afternoon while out walking on Old Quarry Road I stopped by a small pond. There at the edge of the water among the reeds was a single swan. “Stately, still, remote, assured, majestically indifferent and composed.” Swans usually have mates but this one was solitary in the dying light. William Gass speaks about the impossibility of ever perfectly translating Hölderlin’s image of the birds dipping their heads “ins heilignüchterne Wasser” because the religious undertones in the single German word carry echoes of holy water and grace and when you break the syllables apart for English meaning, what is hallowed inside perishes. 


Outside the field of empirically possible knowledge is there a property of blueness in itself that continues to exist when everything is sold away? I keep going back in my mind to the tiny square remnant of Sarah Pierrepont’s wedding dress. This love relic has lasted over two hundred years in the form of a Prussian blue scrap. It says nothing at all to an outsider who can look at it without being seen. Could it be an illusory correlation that causes my brain to repetitively connect this single swatch with the oblong royal blue plastic throwaway sheath—protecting the early edition of the New York Times as it lay on our driveway on the morning of January 3rd, and again with the bright cyan book jacket on the complimentary copy of Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher that arrived for Peter in the mail a month later?


“Safe, through this wall your loving words used to pass in tiny whispers.”

Pyramus picks up Thisbe’s cloak and carries it to the mulberry trysting-tree. The cerulean toga streaming across the running man’s body and the blue fragment of Sarah’s wedding dress coexist in limit and in freedom where all things are transacted and spoken, even the fable of Orpheus being permitted to redeem his wife from hell, though losing her afterward by looking back, then through grief dwelling in deserts. I don’t pretend to be saying God has promised any new grace concerning our scheme being brought to pass via parables of lost sheep. No, not the least shadow association even in the realm of wishes. Art is a mystery; artifice its form. Hannah has taken off her embroidered shoes.

She is dipping her bare feet in varieties of light. 


I can’t remember if there was snow on the ground but I do remember the cold. If winter landscape meets the being of the subject of the soul now and before, and conveys what is yours to join the finished pastoral invention of others that is rationalism’s secret.


Returning home, after only a day or two away, I often have the sense of intruding on infinite and finite local evocations and wonder how things are, in relation to how they appear. This sixth sense of another reality even in simplest objects is what poets set out to show but cannot once and for all.

If there is an afterlife, then we still might: if not, not.


Midas begged Bacchus to relieve him of his dangerous talent. He has gone down to the source of the Pactolus River and kneels in profile, finally cleansed of gold. He is tired tired. In Poussin’s small Ajaccio composition, yellow brushstrokes on leaves tipped by the setting sun indicate evening’s reflective melancholy. There will always be people struggling for worldly power—

Do we communicate in mirror languages, through some inherent sense of form, in every respect but touch? Do we ever know each other; know who we really are? Midas, King Midas—is the secret we take away with us—touch


Storytellers in the expanding middle class eager for professional careers move across sites of struggle in “battleground” fields. We are our soul but we haven’t yet got the dead of it. You steal on me you step in close to ease with soft promise your limit and absolute absence.


“Our ling’ring Parents—” At the end of Milton’s poem “They looking back, all th’Eastern side beheld/Of Paradise, so late their happy seat.” Now they mean to go to the end of the world—here—

“where the body goes, ceases to be, comes to nothing—”


It could have been the instant of balance between silence, seeing, and saying; the moment before speech. Peirce would call this moment, secondness. Peter was returning to the common course of things—our world of signs


“The Disappearance Approach” by Susan Howe, from THE QUARRY, copyright ©1974, 1987, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2007, 2010, 2015 by Susan Howe. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Read more from the finalists of the 2016 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

Read other excerpts from the 2016 PEN Literary Award winners and finalists here.