Philosophy in Their Sex Life

Four New Poems By Maureen McLane

April 27, 2016  By Maureen N. McLane

Maureen McLane’s new book, Mz N: the serial: A Poem-in-Episodes contains lyrics of genre-bending meditations beyond/between the distinctions of memoir, essay, allegory, novel. Often, her mind stops at locations throughout Western history, from Plato and Rousseau, say, or the frat house, where words like queer or feminist could not yet, or would never, mean anything. And yet McLane’s poetry, that of a 21st-century Sappho, feels as ancient as it does sudden. The unstoppable, riverish fever of her enjambed, short-lined poems quickly draws one down through her mind, which is as good a prism as any I know of to encounter the external “effects” of nature, beauty, body. Her speaker (and pseudo-doppelgänger protagonist) have ideas about Athens and “Death metal,” often interchangeably. What’s so truly essential in her somersaulting, backwards/forwards time machine is the way she makes memory, inside poetry, a downright erotic activity. It’s not just the sex of her thought, but the sex of thought itself that breathes through these gorgeous poems.

—Adam Fitzgerald, Poetry Editor




Some are fated

to live out the history

of philosophy in their sex life.

In the cave

of illusion Mz N sensed

the realm of pure

ideas elsewhere

immanent in the sky

she would see only once

she’d left the cave and felt

the sun burn her eyes

into truth. Few

can bear

this truth

said Plato brilliant

monster and everyone

philosopher or no

makes her way

back into the cave


or not. For her

there were no ideal forms

no ideal table

which all mere tables

could but imitate—

a real

behind the screen

of the real—

There was this god thing

He was personal

She took it personally

as if she were a Calvinist

or capitalist

and salvation and all profit depended

on her alone

her faith alone but faith

in what. Credo

in unum deum

for a long while and then

no credo. Mz N

recapitulated the Reformation

and Counter-Reformation

and several previous

minor and major heresies

in her soul inquiries & agonies years

seven to fourteen

as she would years later discover

through reading

—seven the age of reason

sd the ancients

or was it Shakespeare’s Jaques

or was it eleven in Augustine—

They are always trying to fix

reason and the age of reason

so one could consent

to be reasonable about things

one was supposed to be reasonable about—

& one can’t help but reason

said genial David Hume—

no other reason!

She would have

being Catholic

a confirmation

She’d be confirmed

if she’d be confirmed

in her faith. Kierkegaard

brought doubt into the heart

of faith though it had coiled there

a long while

not least in those anguished

souls who unsure

of their salvation

in the seventeenth century

drowned themselves.

Look into thy heart

All the historical things

may have happened

but they happen


to you

a most historical



A family

can create a world

sustained by other


can weave a weft

and warp of world

no other air

can penetrate

a while. Only a while

The thing

about the mind

it tunes itself

to secret strings vibrating

elsewhere. If elsewhere

another thing’s ringing

or waving or wavering the mind

plucks it out

framing a harp and harpist

out of alien air and singing strings

The grandfather died

and then the other grandfather

leaving the fatherless parents


Where is he

& where is he

I suppose you are going

to tell me

he’s gone to heaven


a native faculty

of even a four-year-old mind.

They told her

he’d gone to heaven

with the other one.

They uneasily remember

this sometimes the pestering

long-gone child

who can question

without authority


the children and suffer

the parents

What is the grass

I think it is the ancient hair

of graves

I think it is the lawn

the 20th century unrolled

over America

It is a weed that sucks dry the water table

& the grass is the wind in the grass

a green handkerchief

dropped by an absconded god




Mz N can think herself

a blank slate

generating a world

out of sense impressions

but for the fact she feels

so uncertainly

she can’t trust her senses

Are there five

Are there eight

The humans have devised

so many systems for sensing

and extra-sensing and taxonomizing


who awaited stigmata

is a queer empiricist

Mock on mock on

Voltaire Rousseau

And when in a frat-house

at fifteen

with a hapless drunk man

a boy really but large

technically and legally a man

how could she know

if he stuck it in

Wouldn’t she have felt it

Wouldn’t there have been blood

the palpable


Wouldn’t there have been

as the novels and movies and daytime dramas insisted


Wouldn’t there have been?

not to mention pain

There was nothing

a big fat nothing

Shakespeare’s nothing

is a big fat thing

worth killing for


is a heroine of nothing

Voices drifted

up through a small

window open

a crack the older girls

singing don’t do

don’t do anything

your mother wouldn’t want

you to              Her mother

wouldn’t want

her to and that’s enough

for her to want to

A perfect oppositional logic

of an already enclosed field

of desire.

But what happened?

Whatever happens?

History is what happened

Poetry what could happen

The probability

is they’d fucked

or she’d been fucked

or he’d fucked her

or even in a wild unlikely construction

though one must in strictness admit it

she’d fucked him

And yet

She never really knew

what happened

And there was really no one

around to ask


was one of many episodes

in which Mz N had little grasp

of events

much less plot

Why not say what happened?

Why not say

what happened?

What happened?





This is my river

of nothing. No one

steps here twice

& most drown in the rush

of its whitewatered ongoingness

unforgiving but beautiful

as the idea of Athens

whitely and dispassionately just.

Those that have the power

to hurt and will do none

look into the eyes

& see nothing

of themselves and thus you cry

certain of a new night

you’ll not recover from.

Death metal.

Swarm the dark waters.

The burst beat

is the beat burst the banks

burst the beat

the drums bursting

the ear bursting riverdrums

in bursts of nothing

as nothing bursts





I caught that arrow

you meant for me

and dipped its tip

in blackest ink

and wrote you out



Mz N Meadow


Somewhere after wildness

a meadow

is good for dreaming

and crickets

and remembering the word

for grasshopper

in French.

We have put down

our tankards

We do not smash

the boards in a meadhall

Our armor unlike ants’

is wholly inside

our bodies

The skin of a meadow

is grass

and wildflowers who return

as if invited

by the season to visit

a long unbroken field

to accept the hospitality

of the why not hello




Photo Credit: Jo Edredge Morrissey.

Maureen N. McLane
Maureen N. McLane
Maureen N. McLane is the author of six books of poetry as well as two books on British romantic poetics. Her My Poets (FSG, 2012)—an experimental hybrid of memoir and criticism—was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Autobiography. Her More Anon: Selected Poems is forthcoming from FSG in 2021.

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