cover image The Exchange

The Exchange

Sophie Cabot Black. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-55597-641-5

“You must write as if all along a flaw /Was on the bone, one place not quite right” writes Black in her third collection. These meditative, aphoristic poems deal with paying witness to illness, questioning both the future and the afterlife. The theme of “exchange”—of time, love, and knowledge—proves central to the collection’s metaphysical concerns. Poems about biopsy and chemotherapy appear alongside poems about real estate and private equity, suggesting an ominous correlation between the use and cost of the body: “To use the entire body/ Is to kneel down; her bones are the price/ Of information.” Another poem declares, “Everything feels like payment.” The biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, alluded to throughout the collection, complicates the idea of exchange by introducing sacrifice: “Every time I begin with the story of a man/ Willing to kill his son. Tell me what I need/ To know.” Cabot has a gift for abstracting the familiar in an effort to recapture memory, skillfully using negation to suspend sense: “No voice/ Heard as once imagined nor did she/ Beckon and somehow know what I did not/ Know, behind her what I loved/ All the while.” In these poems Black weaves sheer elegance and devastating knowing. (May)