The Radiant

paper • 60 pages • 14.95
ISBN-10:  1-884800-49-1

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The Radiant

Cynthia Huntington

Winner of the 2001 Levis Poetry Prize
selected by Susan Mitchell



I remember standing in the kitchen, stirring bones for soup,
and in that moment, I became another person.

It was an early spring evening, the air California mild.
Outside, the eucalyptus was bowing compulsively

over the neighbor’s motor home parked in the driveway.
The street was quiet for once, and all the windows were open.

Then my right arm tingled, a flutter started under the skin.
Fire charged down the nerve of my leg; my scalp exploded

in pricks of light. I shuddered and felt like laughing;
it was exhilarating as an earthquake. A city on fire

after an earthquake. Then I trembled and my legs shook,
and every muscle gripped so I fell and lay on my side,

a bolt driven down my skull into my spine. My legs were
swimming against the linoleum, and I looked up at the underside

of the stove, the dirty places where the sponge didn’t reach.
Everything collapsed there in one place, one flash of time.

There in my body. In the kitchen at six in the evening, April.
A wooden spoon clutched in my hand, the smell of chicken broth.

And in that moment I knew everything that would come after:
the vision was complete as it seized me. Without diagnosis,

without history, I knew that my life was changed.
I seemed to have become entirely myself in that instant.

Not the tests, examinations in specialists’ offices, not
the laboratory procedures: MRI, lumbar puncture, electrodes

pasted to my scalp, the needle scraped along the sole of my foot,
following one finger with the eyes, EEG, CAT scan, myelogram.

Not the falling down or the blindness and tremors, the stumble
and hiss in the blood, not the lying in bed in the afternoons.

Not phenobarbitol, amitriptylene, prednisone, amantadine, ACTH,
cortisone, cytoxan, copolymer, baclofen, tegretol, but this:

Six o’clock in the evening in April, stirring bones for soup.
An event whose knowledge arrived whole, its meaning taking years

to open, to seem a destiny. It lasted thirty seconds, no more.
Then my muscles unlocked, the surge and shaking left my body

and I lay still beneath the white high ceiling. Then I got up
and stood there, quiet, alone, just beginning to be afraid.

About the Author

  • "This is a remarkable book that will reward repeated readings. It is also a book of awful things— sickness and suffering and betrayal. ‘We feel so much / and then we die’— these lines, succinct and matter-of-fact in their statement of life's mystery, shook me to attention and drew me into Huntington's world. This is not a book for the faint of heart or for those in search of glib consolations. This is a book about human spirit and intelligence wrestling with the terrible, struggling not to be broken, admitting ‘I am that stuff that can be destroyed,’ yet through that very admission becoming, at least for this reader, ‘the stuff that cannot be destroyed.’ Disturbing, even harrowing, these poems are also ravishingly beautiful and deeply felt meditations on the world, meditations enacted by a poet who is highly intelligent and emotionally complex, equally capable of detachment and intensity. Reading The Radiant I was taken to a place I have encountered in Ovid and Euripides, a place where the human is overcome by powers it cannot control, powers that relentlessly transform it into animals and trees and strange insects—or tear it to pieces. In Huntington's book, this is ‘a place beyond hope.’ But paradoxically, it is in this place—or from it—we see the radiance that gives the book its title, the shining that Huntington's refusal to look away finally forces from the world. No, I don't come back to this book for comfort, I return to it to feel alive." —Susan Mitchell