From Issue 20: "Objective Correlative" by Anne Starling (Poetry)

Reading time: Approximately 3 minutes

After I read this work by Anne Starling the first time, I went back to the beginning and immediately read it again. This is one indication to me as an editor that the poem itself is resonating, it has an echo. For me, "Objective Correlative" creates a three dimensional shape by its use of statements and their opposites, molding the existence of the field from the air itself. By the end, I knew exactly where I was standing and it's my hope that you do, too.

If you'd like to hear it read by the poet, there's a link on our Listen page.

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Mare Heron Hake

Poetry Editor


Objective Correlative


by Anne Starling


The field is an absence.

What is so difficult? It isn’t

as if you had a map, or ever had a clue 

where you were going, or a way of knowing. 

The field is a sea, then a raft of grass, 

never a raft in reality: you must walk it.   

Where are the stones

for stepping? Where is the earth? Solid clay

turns to mud, then chasm.

You must walk it. 

The field looks innocent, 

like a baby sleeping, hiked up on its elbows 

and knees, the round smooth back

a hillock of baby. You wouldn’t believe

the obstacles in this field. And if you drop something,

forget about it. Forget about the thing

you lost; consider it is in the weeds somewhere.

That’s the way forward. The way to cross

the illusory

field that’s always burning,

the real field that’s burning.

The field is stone, and stubble

and snow. Smoke goes up

and ashes fall into it.

Nothing is spared. Not you, not snow.

The field goes where it wants to go, or its spread

is random. You have a path, right in front of you.

The path stops where you least expect it,

maybe in the middle, or you turn off the path,

looking for something

not there. The field is full of people.

The field is the place you go to be alone.

You are always alone. The field is illusory.

You do not go there. The field is where

you already are, and always have been.

The field is corn secretly growing.

The field is you, placing one foot in front of the other.

The field is sleeping or feigning sleep. The field is the oldest

thing there is; as far as you’re concerned,

it’s an absence. A field mouse darting in a field.

A crop of wheat; a patch of tares.

The field holds the sound of new growth

close to its ear.

The field is the sky, which gives up nothing.

The field is birds flying over it,

and your astonishment, catching sight.

The field is where you started.

The field is how you return, again and again,

to life in this world.



reprinted with the permission of the poet.

Anne Starling has this to say about her work:

We often hear “life is a journey.” If that’s so, it’s a journey we’re all dropped into with no prep or time to pack. We have to find own way, our own lives, given a particular set of circumstances. Perspective is skewed when so much is random and changing. I think of life as a crossing of terrain—a field specifically—not ocean, because the ocean frankly scares me: its immensity, its opaque quality, those weird bottom fish. This poem is my best representation of what it’s like to be alive so far.

Anne Starling (she/her) was born in California and now lives in Florida. Her work has appeared in New Ohio Review, Rattle, Missouri Review, The Southern Review and Carolina Quarterly.