By Katherine Larson

I. Landscape with Yellow Birds

The theories of Love
have become tremulous and complicated.
The way snow falls or Saturn revolves
repeatedly around some distance
where space is nothing
yet still something that separates.

Never mind time. Caterpillars
have turned the fruit trees
into body bags. The children paint
the mandibles of fallen ones with
silver meant for nursery stars.
Without the immense responsibility
of sympathy, these small deaths
are nothing more than
artifice. Like a single magnolia
in a cut glass bowl
we have no idea where
our roots went so suddenly.

II. Architecture in Ruins

Third floor of the doll factory,
ferns suck carbon
and sharper chemicals from air
near the women working.

They’re hunched over tables
of warped wood.
Half of everyone is painting
eyes and lashes on porcelain heads, the rest
are threading hands to sleeves.

Outside in the courtyard
a smattering of doves rise.
Have you ever wanted to
kiss a stranger’s hands?

III. Gardens Without Bats or Moss

Gauguin writes to Theo van Gogh that in his painting he wants to suggest
the idea of suffering—without ever explaining what kind.

IV. In Stone Archways

The light is spilt green milk, which is languorous
as the red monkey Gauguin painted

by the brown body of Anna
the Javanese. At the Chinese Market

I buy two red teacups and a can
of coconut milk. I think—

Gauguin wouldn’t know
how Anna loved that monkey

and sang to him late at night.
Everywhere the sea screams

at me. A great pink slab of octopus arm,
beside it, babies seasoned in orange spices.

Such symmetry! Surely they swam
through the night like thirsty

flowers. I think you had it right
when you said love is the mathematics

of distance. Split like a clam on ice,
I feel raw, half-eaten. I rot

in the cold blue of the ego,
the crushed velvet of Anna’s chair.

Today’s poem is from Radial Symmetry (Yale University Press, 2011) by Katherine Larson (copyright 2011 by Katherine Larson), and is reproduced by permission of Yale University Press.

Katherine Larson is the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Poetry Prize. She lives in Arizona.

Editor’s Note: Katherine Larson’s poetics lie in the fertile crossroads of poetry and science. Inner discovery gives way to the biological, micro gives way to macro, and so on until the reader finds herself woven into a web of language and imagery. At once disorienting and familiar, the end effect is appreciation of the natural beauty artfully wrought. Galactic leaps are made between concepts as large as space, time, and love, while each giant stride is written on the small space of the heart. “[S]pace is nothing / yet still something that separates. / Never mind time,” Larson posits, concluding that, “I think you had it right / when you said love is the mathematics / of distance.”

Want to see more by Katherine Larson?
Buy Radial Symmetry
Poetry Foundation


  1. The pieces to Gauguin are extraordinary! And—outside of Gauguin— I particularly like the line ‘ferns suck carbon:’ great visual! Thanks for finding/sharing these gems!


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