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Poem / Participant Observation

Love Poem for the Shape of the Field

Anthropologist-poet Nomi Stone reflects on the scope of a social scientist’s gaze—and unfurls a startling insight.
Anthropology Love Poem Nomi Stone
Love Poem - Listen

The sun opens, shutters. The social scientist wants
to know where to look, keeps widening
her gaze.

Over here on the earth, a girl
fries squash-blossoms with ricotta and sage,
taking only the ones the plant doesn’t need.

There, a boy flicks tiny fireworks, his dark head nimbly snapping down
with the pleasure of the noise.

Is that the moon, soaping the stones?

Someone is taking a bath and notices how their body
is inside time: a slick-fleshed garment loosening on the bone.

Light tinkerbelling here then there makes amethysts
against what it touches. I’m not sure which life is mine.
I slow down and there it is, one cone of light. When I return home

from the field for Passover, the spring light is mellow,
makes ovals across the grass.

Walking by the canal on a cold March day, my brother picks me up,
tosses me over his shoulder, and my sister and I laugh, remembering
when he was small.

My mom and dad let our dog off the leash, and he gallops
through the park—

Helixed with the beautiful came always the terrible. The physicist buried
the centrifuge in the garden. Still, don’t we feel it beneath us, thrumming
in the dark? Clouds fall in flakes. A fire hydrant makes a fountain
over the children’s hands & they fill apple juice bottles over the lit sidewalks.

Inside, the table is brimming and bright. Oh, how I have tried
to interpret the festival, its rehearsal of loss and reward, every spring.
“You can either watch the Seder,” my dad says, “Or, you can sing.”

Nomi Stone

Nomi Stone is an assistant professor of poetry/creative writing at the University of Texas, Dallas. Her second poetry collection Kill Class (Tupelo 2019), based on her anthropological fieldwork in military training camps across the U.S., was recently a finalist for the Julie Suk Award. Winner of a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright fellowship, and broadcast across buses by the Poetry Society of America in Rhode Island, Stone’s poems appear recently in The Best American Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, and elsewhere. Stone received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University and her MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College. Her first anthropology monograph Pinelandia: Human Technology and American Empire/An Anthropology and Field-Poetics of Contemporary War is forthcoming (University of California Press, 2022). Follow her on Twitter @Nomi_Stone.


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