Molly McQuade's poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, The American Scholar, North American Review, Pequod, and elsewhere. Her writing has received fellowships and awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Pew Charitable Trusts, PEN, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Illinois Arts Council. Her poetry also received New York University's Philo and Sally Higley Award. McQuade served as poetry columnist for The Hungry Mind Review and previously founded and edited the poetry review column of Publishers Weekly. Her poetry criticism has also been published in The Washington Post and Newsday, among others. Currently she is a contributing editor for Graywolf Press, a correspondent for Booklist, and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. A collection of her essays about poetry, Stealing Glimpses, was published by Sarabande Books in 1999. Barbarism, her first book of poems, was published by Four Way Books in 2000. She has also edited By Herself, an anthology of essays about poetry, released by Graywolf Press in 2000.


By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry
Stealing Glimpses

The poems on this page appear in Barbarism. They are reprinted here with the permission of Four Way Books.

Four Poems by Molly McQuade


Every day, a new web
is left for me, to dry by seven,
heaped up, hard to scan,
a gummy stocking. The radial swish
is shocking to my eye,
my touch; each time
I stumble, try
to hush the mesh.
Spiders don't keep anything,
vanish with their baggy juices
before I can remember what morning is.
I'd rather stop waking for weeks,
neglect so as to desire better,
although no spider has ever had to learn—
her craft in spinning was decided
before she was born. Designs transpire.
This one hangs in the door, fluttering
with loop-de-loop drool.
Looking, I think: city. Its streets are coarse.
I think, Armani. Faceted cling
and unusual stripes.
And I think, there's a vacancy
in this flat nest.
The spider did it and ran.
She forgot to put the postage stamp on. She was protuberant
in a thin hammock
that couldn't bear her vague spots.
Yet I like to picture her,
unwelcome artist scuttling on a strand
and vowing to create a disturbance.
She hurts the apparatus
as an iron can ruin ruffles.
A barbarism is inside us.


The slick head has seamed the bay
and trusted in.
True rhythm is that water, sunken ripple


She ruined herself in a sort of rumpus,
dizzy with florets.
The brusque little stream dried out,
and she lost her tact, the marvelous
ambivalence of balance. So she fritters
with quanta of insects.
Her wispiness was bred for her mate,
who moons in a meadow with a bitten stalk.
She towers, too shrewd to give up, wants to live
solely for vengeance.
The frilly kerchief of lace steadies her gaze
for what it's worth,
the dark blue brooch
piercing the heart.
Her lyric has been broken. She leans over.


Be planted. Don't do anything to stop it.
Let the woozy wrap around your nonnegotiable hardness
slump and stretch a little. It'll take a few days.
Then your brown snood drops off
and riplets of dry tide, the squirms,
mutters, hiccups, carve
the fey down delightful:
they are sunk, and dark.
Sand can be a lax receiver, but if you're lucky,
a hardy mound will hold you,
unwitted, yet to be trusted,
those mineral courses
impossible to feel or see, but good to think of.
Strum them if you like.
Conduct a chorus of complaint
and groan,
reach, settle, and strive.
Tell the small voices, so abstemious but muscular,
that you will wait until the grand warm-up passes
into lyric, deep song
of always yet to come.
And be playful. They will not want
your wandering baton
or might or measly syllable
if you cannot sound it lightly.
Know that even (or especially)
your foremost wand
as it edges, ogles, and listens, testing ground,
letting loose, getting done,
is a spark's fragment,
a severe fraction
of the strength of tree or flower.