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The Net

Unified by its theme of metamorphosis, these poems descend deeply into subjects as divergent as a jetty that disappears during high tide, to a talking parasitical head, to a sandlot baseball legend, to a famine road in Ireland, to Orpheus, to Wittgenstein, to a murdered poet and his wife, and finally to grave personal loss, tracing through all of its many attentions the thread that binds the physical to the metaphysical—a psychic passage from death back to life again.

“These are very beautiful poems, and The Net is a very
beautiful book—surpassingly so. Some poems are movingly
personal, yet are always also about the experience we share as
human beings; how we recognize ourselves in how we look at
things, in what we read and have read, and in the evidence of
our dismaying human lives. In that very way Tobin's
marvelous translation of Trakl's ‘All Souls’ memorializes
human experience. Tobin also displays an extraordinary
capacity for using his resources as a poet through his
command of diction and idiom, and through his
versification—his ability to produce fluent and expressive
metrical lines in sequences (often rhyming in very original,
surprising ways) which construct, for each poem, an
identifying and powerfully persuasive music, and in his
ability to convey also in free-verse the music of impressive
thought and feeling. The mastery evident in his uses of these
resources is enviable.”
—David Ferry

“Daniel Tobin’s poems are resolute, humble, lyric,
unflinching, and incredibly—painfully—good. The poems
in The Net bear the responsibilities of conscious witness.
And witness is the exact right word. Daniel Tobin doesn’t
write from the point of view of the narcissistic, monocular I,
he writes simply from The Eye. The poems have vision
enough to dilate even the rarest of details and his range of
perception extends beyond the periphery; he sees around
corners. These poems are visually acute, near brutal in their
beauty (hear me—I’ve read “The Turnpike” a dozen times
now; it haunts me like a goddamn ghost and I don't see that
changing anytime soon). The whole book’s a master class in
—Jill Alexander Essbaum


Something whispered I wanted more of myself.
That’s how I turned into the fleur of myself.

The lake. The ripple’s shimmer. That lilting face.
I’ll guzzle the infinite pour of myself.

What is this flow I feel, its course through soft bone?
The current? The mother load? The ore of myself?

Fill me with all things. Empty me completely.
I winnow and still am the store of myself.

Imagine earth, the stars—all space expanding—
And finding everywhere the core of myself.

If soul’s estate means a mansion’s many rooms
Then someday I will take a tour of myself.

Do you think me insane, my hypocrite twin?
A catatonic’s stare? The whore of myself?

Call me this. Call me that. Call me what you will.
I surpass beyond words the lore of myself.

Time blooms with space, and their sum’s all I am.
I am forever the before of myself.

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, Beauty is Truth…
X to nth power is the shore of myself.

Narcissus—the name a wind passing through wind.
Now watch me step through the door of myself.


reaches, a stone sentence, across the bay—

its jigsaw syntax entered like hopscotch
from Land’s End,
entered the way wrens
step, step on sidewalks, crushed shells,
looking for seed,
as if unsure of earth,

until it feels natural to be outside
the known scope,
and you follow
the jumbled puzzle out farther

than you first expected, toehold
by toehold,

to where the broader slabs
give certain footing, a way over water,

Appian, you think, miraculous
the way it seems to float
on tidal flats,
beach-grass wavery as prairie
sprouting from wavelets, tinselate,

the whole horizon threatening to blend
earth, sky and sea,
though sea, sky, and earth

stand poised, pristinely, on the glinting
so you come to feel yourself
suspended in a fluency that would be

ethereal if not for the thump, thump
of a festival drumming intermittently

from the town, over parabolic sands,
like finest brushstrokes lacing the shoals—

shallows of moon-snails, welks, skate-eggs,
these currents like sandcoils redoubling

in pools where shucked pilings, scarified
brace to colonies of rockweed
that flail in sediment’s plangent ooze,

the soft siphons of lowlier lives
shooting invisibly from under,

trumpet worms, dogwinkles, bits
of swamp-pink and poverty grass

awash in foam the color of meringue,
salt spray rust in the tide’s
recursive flow,
a slow parting-of-the-waters revealing

articulations of tablets into shifting
dunes that have arranged themselves

into just this measure, as if to say
Nothing needs you here—
not the sundews
and sanderlings, plovers, hovering gulls;

not even the lighthouse at Long Point,
a beacon at the brink of the human:

you are an earthstar tumbling its spores
into the living waste,
the risen pleroma,

your name a net caught in the hollow
between stones
while the tide sounds
the length of this transit, susurrant

fountain, a summoning from under,
and all of it gone by evening.


The Burren Way

Homesick for more than home, here, astride the sea’s genius,
I long to dissolve in a limestone landscape—
These terraced beds imprinted with grikes, the pillowed clints
Interleaved with hollows where for eons rainwater’s
Patient nibs scribed the chronicles of absence into karst,
And still do, lines plumbing sidewise underground,
Forming a web of secret caves like halls in a dream house
I dreamed of in my parents’ house long ago.
I cannot go there, but follow the tracks soft laneway out
Past stile and waymarking deeper into boireann,
The “Place of Rocks,” ocean’s crushed shells and skeletons formed
To a horizon risen from the ancient sea.
“Neither tree to hang someone, nor soil enough to bury him,”
Cromwell lamented, having reached this graven edge,
Though had he looked he’d have seen graves enough: tombs, raths
Recalling playthings in a Land of Make Believe,
Now this lost Famine village still deserted and brooding
Where a surface river tumbles from the shale,
Its roofless walls a thriving quarter of dens and fuchsia.
My green road itself is like a path through loss
Where Famine roads splintered, directionless, to nowhere,
For the hungry their work a Relief without relief,
While underneath me it flows on—water’s flawless love
Honing the inner spaces, invisibly, constantly,
So along the outer faults the barren world flourishes—
Cinquefoil, silverweed, cranesbill, gentian, orchid,
Saxifrage splitting the rocks’ dappled stencils of bone.
Rockroses burst beside the ephemeral lakes.
It’s not all death, I think, this double cemetery of earth
And thought with its sunken city off the coast,
With its “green hole” by the harbor the locals call Hell,
And its cliffs rising from the head of the past
At the spirit’s base—“Who is my father in this world?”
Or my mother, Moher, Mothair, that silent “T”
My central, empty cross? What was it I meant to find
Here, now, nowhere, raging in the pitch-pipe wind:
An answer, human, out of the sublime? To be whole again?
Song mastering the wake of everything gone?
You are this longing, the iron in the wish for origin.
It sounds you, shapes you, water under stone.