Is a Dead, John McKernan

Judith Nelson, Fossil Colony, 2012, 24X26



A bee?

The way
A statue of Lincoln
Is Lincoln

The lice
Of philosophy
Burrow deeper
Into the silence within my skull

At the end of Autumn
When every morning
I touch the frost on the sundial
To see my fingerprint

John McKernan


Review by Seth Jani

I’ve been familiar with the work of John McKernan for a long time, and I continue to be fascinated with his sparse, white-space ridden style. His poems are like diving bells carrying us down into the depths of language and thought. Through each one’s singular window, we catch a glimpse of some massive and mysterious edifice, one that McKernan has been building and tinkering with for years.

This poem gives us yet another intimation of that larger work. It touches on many of the author’s reoccurring themes: What separates the living from the dead?  Are there any kind of absolutes hidden in a world of relative values? How far can philosophy/religion go in helping us face the existential silence of grief and death?

True to form, McKernan sticks to a Keatsian sense of “negative capability.” He steers clear of answers and leads us back to the beautiful and astounding details: a dead bee, a fingerprint found in frost.  


Scroll to Top