from Her Scant State
an erasure of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady
BARBARA TOMASH 





​I.
the grass a little bristling bustling
              fertilized by a high civilization      a white hat

                           a pair of soiled dog-skin gloves

 tired America                 hot weather
            a tall girl in a black dress

                                              inclined 







Go to the box and stay there, sit a little behind and in the dark, angry for being 
angry under the stars they call a free country. I wonder if stone walls like to 
dislike gravity to be innocent. Have I hurt the naming of something? I wanted so 
much to stop. In the circle—“vivid”—repeated. 






​II.
nevertheless, he knocked           absented, watery  
            disamericanising desire      so very soluble a problem

in the white American light      “the banking mystery”  
              fine ivory surface polished        his own fault 

Americans’ right          limits of       primary           pleasure  
            an unthumbed fruit           the historic consciousness











Dear limitation, the illumination was dying. I waked but was asleep, very much 
so, and I never arrive at the point, a certain point—a word I see caught and put 
into a cage, and letters, in absurd pockets. Words should make mistakes and want 
no breakfast and live on air, quietly, coldly. I do. I go back. I take. Terrible 
mouthful. 





​III.
leaning his elbows on his knees 
staring at the floor          throwing himself back 
             against the wall 

getting—getting—getting














“How much money has he got?” Richness softened by the interposing wish to be 
indebted—like a bright rare shell with a polished surface. I shouldn’t have gone. 
I shouldn’t have liked to turn away. I shouldn’t have been happy. 





​IV.
intimacy violently tapped 
            a loss to break you up         the lightest part of a person
dropped from the rain
















The American’s “perfect intimacy” with his wife seemed to him a dryness 
tethered to the carpet. Who was never herself disappeared. They had crossed 
the threshold to the bright empty room. With words—“penetrate,” “pretending” 
“lash”—it vibrated.






​V.
darned cashmere
dyed hair
flower without foliage
pair of compasses
human contact
knife edge













She felt the insecurity of authorship, this detailed account more dead than alive, 
taken to bed, never leave again. She had two patients, earthly, ailing. “America,” 
Isabel had written, “garden of critical conditions.” The only news received, I 
have just quoted. Thrusting it into her pocket, she went to study the pause she 
had opened.












BARBARA TOMASH is the author of four books of poetry: PRE- (Black Radish Books 2018), Arboreal (Apogee 2014), The Secret of White (Spuyten Duyvil 2009), and Flying in Water, winner of the 2005 Winnow First Poetry Award. An earlier version of PRE- was a finalist for the Colorado Prize and the Rescue Press Black Box Poetry Prize. Before her creative interests turned her toward writing she worked extensively as a multimedia artist. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Web Conjunctions, New American Writing, Verse, VOLT, OmniVerse, and numerous other journals. She lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.



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