Thomas Devaney is the author of A Series of Small Boxes (Fish Drum, 2007) and The American Pragmatist Fell in Love (Banshee, 1999). In March 2008 he will oversee a shadow puppet performance entitled “New Invisible Cities” at the Institute of Contemporary Art (Phila.) for “The Puppet Show” exhibition. Other projects with the ICA include "The Empty House" tour at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site for "The Big Nothing" exhibit (2004). Recent work has appeared in The Sienese Shredder, jubilat, and The America Poetry Review. He is a Senior Writing Fellow in the Critical Writing and Creative Writing Programs at the University of Pennsylvania.

Thomas Devaney at PENN
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Two Poems by Thomas Devaney


There's nothing else, only the day.
Though my day is your night,
and in it, I find a late ticket to India,
a month's pay away.
Money is invisible. When it's not there,
     then it's not.
But today it's invisible like a coastal city
     of huts I cannot see.
They are to scale and dark
     in the morning haze,
though there all the same.
I can think past what I cannot see,
though the sea is another thing.
The music you've left is playing
in my living room. I could smell you
on the plastic casing when I turned it on
     and up.
What was it, geraniums, your palm,
     a shape of the mind?
It's an instrumental, a fine, clean, up,
but not too up, studio session of
     "The Wave."
I can't tell if it's retro, or retro?
I like the song. Though even a song
that's never dull can lull. So that's
one thing to take from today;
I'll try to remember that. But I can't
get the still point of you
on your head, out of my head.
The coast is not clear.

A Series of Small Boxes

A thousand figures, a thousand forgotten figures:
my matchboxes have cost me nothing and little space,
tossed and scattered in a shoe box now doing their tiny
and generous best to hold what might have been, or was.
Pack your songs, fringe history of television,
kindergarten constructions, extra socks, somehow it all will fit;
and what doesn’t you can bring along too, if you’d like.

In the loneliest days one well-chosen box may abide
           and hold us.
To lift, to be lifted by—and even if we never lift a finger
we may preserve in front of these familiar squares.
A shallow silk green box, its lock of hair long gone;
a single-person hand-painted lunch basket
and the warmth and hunger for its lunches;
a father’s watch and cuff links placed to the side
in a matte leather box;
and a mother’s wooden boxes:
only she knows what treasures they contain,
and how much, and for how long.
Preciousness, friends, is a killer, a deadly sin we know,
yet our ephemera often have a hold well beyond their spheres.
There is Rilke’s letter on three twigs of heather.
“Right now one of them happens to be lying
on dark blue velvet in an old pen and pencil box.
It’s like a fireworks: well, no, it’s really like a Persian rug.”

Of the famed small boxes there is the Tiffany small box.
Big Tiffany boxes are a delight, but they are only an ad
for the smaller boxes, the smallest finely-tuned
           Turquoise boxes.

A small box of chopsticks is a beautiful thing.
These boxes are their own self-contained wisdom.
A transferring, a lifting: separate, select, one piece,
           and then, another.
Between plate and mouth you can have civilization.

Big boxes cast big shadows, but let’s be clear:
big boxes are not the opposite of small boxes.
These boat-sized boxes have their place
in the real estate of the world.
There is no getting around them, and why should we?
As the great tumbling of childhood goes
nothing’s better than a great big box to beat around in.
But how big were those boxes really?
Those refrigerator boxes of youth?
They were huge—and will always remain huge.
I will not speak against their corrugated magic.
They tower over us.
Big boxes fill enough space, yet in a world held together
by a network of all-dominating boxes
small boxes stack up to their biggest brothers.

Small boxes are nested in a nation of monumental boxes.
Still the sadness of so many small boxes arrayed before us
goes without saying (poems, old records, books).
Heavy things are heavy enough, yet to heap and assemble
           again and again is work enough.
Our burnished heirlooms may only cohere
right at this moment, or at a distance, or not at all;
           we do not know.
Boxes of photos in black albums and loose in piles.
Lake Arianna in its panoramic boxes.
Blowing kisses or eating lemons?
Your colorful boxes of you taken by you.

The Russian composer’s English is limited,
but fielding a question she gestures like a dream
to show the peaks and the rolling valleys of Mahler.
Mahler transported for generations
in so many submersible boxes, which are still en route.
And wasted space, the great wasted spaces we know about,
but have only partly charted; as sturdy caskets
and gilded urns are simply fitting spaces too.
We don’t know if “No one really knows.” We don’t know that.
For us, it’s only countless boxes and trying.
A series of hand-made boxes set free from hands and boxes.
A voice within the grain of the wood: an ache released,
           an ache sustained.
Small boxes of sudden joy and sudden unimaginable loss.
The microscopic boxes of supernatural powers collected
over time and which one day arrives; is opened
and then gone, right out the numinous window.