Claire Wahmanholm



A pulling began from nowhere. Book bindings came unglued, hairline cracks cobwebbed the backs of our hands. Caught in the middle of this force we could not call by name, we waited. Down by the river, no more boats. Even the docks had been uprooted and stacked on the shore. For a long time we tried not to move, tried to feel in the air where the pulling was coming from. Groups of us stood with our index fingers licked and raised. How long did we stand before we put our hands to our chests? Irregular thumps. Just there, just here. Kaleidoscope of wrong rhythms. Looking at the night sky, we could see new patches of darkness coming alive. Mornings were suddenly birdless, cloudless, without wind, bright deserts. Now we began to wonder whether we had done wrong things. Or rather, we began to wonder which of our wrong things had been wrong enough. Putting our hands out in the dark of our basements, we felt gaps in the limestone where there had been none. Quarries filled with unidentifiable slurry overnight. Rotten fish slapped their rotten smell on the riverbank. Something was going to happen, had already begun happening, but no one wanted to be here when it finished. There was one way out of the city. Under the streets was a set of sewers that led to the sea. Very carefully, we lowered ourselves into their metal mouths, leaving all the lights on in our houses. Whatever was watching us might be fooled. Xenon lamps shone like suns from the sewer walls, burning our skin. Yarn unspooled behind us as we walked deeper and deeper in. Zero—as in ground, as in vanishing point, as in where the reckoning begins.






The fun of abecedarians is that you know where they’re going to end, and you know approximately how you’re going to get there, but you somehow still end up surprised. That tension between the inevitable and the unknown is my favorite thing about the form. I picture "Beginning" as a sort of countdown, though it's unclear what, exactly, the poem is counting down to. The ending turns out to be the site of another (worse?) beginning, so to me, the poem enacts a sort of Shepherd tone of dread.