Notes on a Ruled Surface by Cheryl Snell

Notes on a Ruled Surface

A few lines flung about the paper land in a cone shape, which we imagine as a hat. The hat is then flung about the curved head of a woman standing in the margins of a French novel. No. That’s not quite right. It should be a conical hat, better suited to scrolling down a set of points swept by a moving straight line. Think: a river dotted with lanterns.

When you let your eye follow the hat, you see how softly it slips over the woman’s edifice of tightly latched birdcages, falls over the tight Achilles tendons that brought her to her knees. Her hips can no longer swing from the cages, she can no longer make out the points that were so easy to find before the dark descended. Now she is a figure leaning into herself, imagining the river.

Behind her sprawls the diagrammed idea of an exit, a staircase spiraling to the ceiling, as in the Louvre. No. Let’s try that again…spiraling up to a sky full of clouds— which, by the way, are just now assembling themselves into triangles, wedges, pyramids—competitive shapes that can be flung at the hat until there is a confusion of three-cornered objects blanketing the sky.

No one knows how such transformations happen. It’s a mysterious process, narcissistic to the core. And with so much flinging back and forth, none of the shapes notices that the woman is trapped inside her only means of escape, crouched low inside a birdcage twisted open. The day spoils in the sun. The figures are just geometry and cannot hear the woman cry.

by Cheryl Snell

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Editor’s Note: Prose poems are deceptively simple, until you try writing one and realize the lack of line breaks means you must figure out another way to emphasize imagery. This poem’s surreal narrative moves from a sketch to dreams and back again.

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