R. Nemo Hill


Pale and panting, he hissed the word “Sacrosanctum” several times at us.

                                              —Paula Modersohn-Becker
                                                   (Letter to her Mother, Worpswede, 1900)

Respectable—both pressed in pale
and proper Sunday white—
until that restlessness we’d learned
from stands of wind-stirred birch
uprooted us at last: to search
for angels whose white dresses
would dance with ours in church.

We found the sanctuary locked,
the hour too late for worship.
And so we climbed the open tower
and sat beside the bells,
held in silence on the swells
of color heaved by distance—
awash like two white shells.

Impervious, those planes of light!
Opaque! But just as strong
our impulse to escape the hues
that veiled unanchored space,
to swing free from the weight of place
by clinging to a bell-rope
in a blur of lace.

Clara and I, we rang the bells,
feet lifting from the floor,
unshored, unmoored from solid things
—by sound’s waves undefined—
our slackened curves and penciled spines
quick-sketched with bold transparence
in smudged-by-laughter lines.

Descending, we’d heard shouts of, “Fire!”
—but flameless was our scandal
in the sanctum of the insubstantial:
each branch stripped bare
each charcoaled figure shivering there,
each skein of bones, exposed,
still vibrating in air.

The parson’s mouth, a line downturned.
Stern neighbors, flushed in ash.
When through the heath, in pallid brushstrokes,
music’s motion faded—
one soul, alone, remained elated:
the hunchbacked girl who sits
outside, and peels potatoes.

No more than a bleached bundle of
unnoticed lines before—
she smiled now, bell-burned ear to ear,
till color was restored.
Through her delight all colors poured.
Now I must paint her, listening,
listening at the door.

R. Nemo Hill is the author of a novel, Pilgrim’s Feather (Quantuck Lane); a book-length poem based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, The Strange Music of Erich Zann (Hippocampus Press); a chapbook, Prolegomena To An Essay On Satire (Modern Metrics); and a collection of poems, When Men Bow Down (Dos Madres Press). He is the editor of EXOT BOOKS.