Ellen Hinsey

Ellen Hinsey


In memory of Anna Politkovskaya

Tonight, there are two or three things I’d like clarified:

Why does it seem language has now been occupied, overtaken by
a foreign tongue? 

Why do the common days of the week press closer together — like
strangers bracing before a storm? 

Why does the wind now avoid the borders? Why do weeds grow
ever closer to the graves? 

Where have they hidden the forbidden orders — the ones they cross
out before you wake? 

Why do those men keenly prospect the hour — as if tracking it with
a marksman’s eye?

Why does it seem the interregnum has now ended — the uncertain
epoch arrived? 

Why do the disappearances come at rhythmic intervals — as if
someone could monitor grief’s intimate pulse? 

Why do the station’s loudspeakers emit that uncertain rumble —
the one that precedes the dark announcement? 

Why are even these few, simple questions removed by the question
mark’s tight noose? 

Listen: it is as if you can again hear the engines running,
headlights of the black vehicles left on, facing the dark of pines
after midnight. 

These are some of my questions — not all of them. But they are
listening as I type.


The exact hour remains unknown: but the old alphabet has been

A dullness now ploughs behind the eye; a restless turmoil gravels
the voice’s articulations. 

The former structures abruptly revert to earth — the way ironwork
burns to rust’s brutal ore. 

Later, you will ask if the sharpened axe indeed hung in air —
suspended above the trunk of a word. 

But have no doubt: day’s new alphabet has been struck — its lead
dropped into a fiery bucket. 

Already the black cuneiform of smoke rises — augurs the contours
of common, unmentionable acts.

A stony silence inhabits the landscape: the reckoning is at hand. 

The ancient tablets, they too give way to fire — fire, to
the inexhaustible blustering of air. 

Yes, the old alphabet has been burned: the lips of our epoch
sealed in tin. 

Prepare for absence’s sting. Prepare for the long hunger of
illiterate hours. 

Archive File: Completion

Set your flag at half-mast…
today and for ever
Paul Celan


We believed it had been completed, Lord.
That the winter’s bitterest frost had fire-purified it —

The old soil of acts.
We believed the heavy tasks had been accomplished,
The last loads faithfully borne down to the black quarries.


That the tongue-forbidden vowels,
Disciplined by granite hours — they too had come to an end,

No longer proclaimed speech’s ascendency
Over the innocent: that the innocent themselves, Lord,
The ashen eyed, too-early dead, purified by silence’s term,


They also had reached their rest, in that far, closed vault of time —
And that the great solace had come — respite from earth’s brutal acts.

And grief-slaked, reproved, the mind had bent low —
At last mastering the art of forbearance.
So that we might no longer fear the blood hour of dawn.


But the high winds return — carry their unheraldable tidings:
It seems the winter was not harsh enough, Lord,

That in secreted depths, the old acts survived in frost —
That shadow figures again advance: pitch their familiar rustic tents
Not far from the willing human heart.

ELLEN HINSEY is the author of eight books of poetry, essays, dialogue and literary translation. Her most recent volume, The Illegal Age (Arc Publications), explores the rise of authoritarianism and was the Poetry Book Society’s 2018 Autumn Choice. Hinsey’s first-hand reports on democracy are collected in Mastering the Past (2017). Her book dialogue with Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, Magnetic North, explores ethics under totalitarianism. Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Irish Times, Poetry Review and others. She lives in Paris.