Home > Mutating the Signature > Icon in a Green Walnut Shell

Icon in a Green Walnut Shell

February 5, 2009

the sound of wind shifting stones, slowly,
over centuries, is how a woman walks

the land.        a sound you can only hear
when you grow               still

between        the thud of heart
(the blue vein of the horizon)

and the night              (the red veil
of the lung).

a man is how we silence trees. the sound
of the wind shifting stones

is an avalanche      in the white sheet of
the tongue. is how a child grasps

wheat fields, scratches stars down
from the dark.              We use words

borrowed from old countrysides.              look up.
their meanings as if they are vials

full of nostrum brewed by     no one.    the rest
is the way a    man speaks

trees,       that blossom into houses. then  prays.
the green veil of the               fingers

plucking the sky from its                      roots
is how a woman listens. slowly, over centuries

is how        plutonium blossoms in the core
of our bones. is how a child gasps The

call of the raven startles us
into a story,        where we are not

the beginning, and words
not the end       or the telling

but what we break open.        in our half-lives.
what we share, what we crouch to eat.

on the edge of night

by Harold Rhenisch and Daniela Elza

Download the MP3

Process notes

This process started years ago, when I (Harold) used to climb my walnut tree in the mountains of British Columbia and shake down walnuts which I picked up from the fall chrysanthemums, and, far away in Bulgaria, I (Daniela) was falling in love with a walnut tree in my grandmother’s yard, staining my fingers on their husks, eating the milky fruit inside.

After that, things were quiet for many years, we both became better writers while working with Daniela’s poems, and began to wonder how we could apply what we had learned. We discussed working out the parameters of a new method of teaching, but it was difficult to get beyond the roles of teacher and student, although we were neither. I (Harold) got the idea that the next step might be to write poems together, without selves, to write them as shared objects. I conceived of them as dramas. W>i<e made a couple attempts that went nowhere, as the process began with poems that appeared finished and the work of breaking them, so they could be reformed, was more difficult than w<i>e anticipated. Thus invitation was already there.

Then Daniela found a line in a story of Harold’s in The Malahat Review, quickly added a few verses to it, and sent it Harold’s way, suggesting he mutate the signature.

I (Harold) had fun with it, picked up on the rhythms (I) Daniela had set up, modified them, depersonalized adjectives, and ran with it as far as I could.

W>i<e both continued this process of shuffling and movement, and within two days of tossing it back and forth w<i>e had a poem that was larger than w>i<e were (was). Most of what was exchanged between us was the poem back and forth. Not much else in terms of explanations. Now that w<i>e have found a way to balance form with improvisation, w>i<e will be writing many more.

  1. kat
    February 5, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    This is a stunning poem. Congratulations to both authors. Your process sounds intriguing; please do keep writing many more.

    the blue vein of the horizon

    Just perfect.

  2. Rob
    February 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    great, great! loved the reading – recorded together or fun with cut-n-paste?

  3. February 5, 2009 at 10:32 pm


  4. February 6, 2009 at 1:45 am


  5. February 6, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    What a wonderful kaleidoscope. I loved your voices reading too. (Did you record it together?)

  6. February 6, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you All for your comments. And thank you Dave and Beth, DAna and Nathan for hosting this wonderful mutating of ourselves into each other.

    We did the recording together due to the sheer luck that Harold came to Vancouver for the PuSh festival. What you hear is our first recorded attempt after scoring the poem on the page. After a while I had to take the highlighters from Harold because it was getting a bit too colourful to keep track of my lines. So there was even excitement right there:-). I have to admit that I understood more of what he was doing with those colours after we read it aloud.

    I keep wondering how to describe this experience of creating/mutating together (written and auditory) to friends who have never done it, and so far I feel like words fail me.
    I will keep trying.

  7. February 7, 2009 at 9:26 am

    This is a lovely piece, I especially like the line that includes “in our half-lives”, such a clever idea/thought.

  8. AVJ
    February 12, 2009 at 5:35 am

    WOW! The reading is just mind-blowing — I love how your voices would overlap and finish each other’s thoughts.

    Gorgeous poem, too. Our fave line: “a man is how we silence trees” makes us think of how we’re cutting down forests, sometimes burning them to keep our firefighter/ranger job (happens in Italy). The last three lines express for us the experience of this mutation. It’s wonderful to meet fellow sandbox playmates!

    Arlene and Valerie and John

  9. February 16, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    thank you, Arlene, and Valerie,
    I see from your website(s) you have been at this collaborating process for a while. You are my inspiration now. Would love to talk more about how a book like that comes together.


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