Literature 7-30-2007

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Cullen Burns

"What Light: This Week's Poem,” sponsored by Magers and Quinn Booksellers, brings you a poem every week by a Minnesota poet, selected by a panel of writers and publishers. Look for our anthology, “What Light,” at Magers and Quinn in Uptown or on line.


An Explanation

Desire, hear the song, resides
by design, dear Hera, resides.

Keep the watchman’s hundred eyes
open; swan, herdsman: see

the infinite disguises one god finds
and the world full of beautiful

women. Ageless, you cannot know
how briefly one body lives in another.

Desire resides until the song stops
and leaves us split, stunned.


This poem began with the anagram desire/reside. Funny how carefully I thought about word play and set out a whole set of challenges for myself in writing this, but now I can’t quite remember what they were. What I hoped for, as much as one thinks about such things, was to make a game of language that in some way represents the games we play in our sexual relationships. And I think Zeus and Hera are good representatives of irrepressible desire and attempts to control it, which we often find ways to thwart. But did I really start with Hera? or did she show up in the poem because her name is an anagram for ‘hear’ in the first line? I can’t say for sure.


Cullen Bailey Burns’ first book, Paper Boat, was published by New Rivers Press in 2003 and was a finalist for a 2004 Minnesota Book Award. Her poems are forthcoming or have appeared recently in The Denver Quarterly, Rattle, Court Green, and many other magazines. She lives in Minneapolis.