:: Article

The Empiricists

By Tiff Holland.

We talk about the blind leading the blind, about one man’s hand on that of another man, flying buttresses, how much you can know with how little. I have tapes: me reading poems, you reading poems, Ginny reading poems before she died. I have a picture of her leaning over the great glow of her fiftieth birthday cake, holding her hair back as she blows.

Sometimes, I tell them to pretend they are talking to my seven year old, to be that straightforward and clear, to forget about adjectives and goddamn adverbs, but the kid isn’t clear herself. She asks me what I’m going to do when I get home and I tell her: wash my hands. And then what? Take the dog out to pee and then what? It goes on like this until I have to warn her about something, shutting her hand in the car door or putting an eye out or walking backwards off the porch.

I used to alphabetize my pantry. It was easier then. Today I stuttered in class, and for the first time, they laughed and I reminded them it was the stroke, the stroke stuttering not me and I tried to stay away from the hard “K” sounds for the rest of the hour.

Once I had an epiphany. I was twenty-two. I asked them to imagine me an ROTC cadet but they couldn’t. They knew I was a poet. I told them about the deuce and a half letting us all off, BDUs and steel pot helmets, in the middle of the old arsenal, how there weren’t even any stars and I had no idea how many of my own footsteps to cross a football field. I told them about the scraps of paper with the coordinates, that I was the first one back in, how I found the fox curled in a ball sleeping under the darkest tree.


Tiff Holland‘s poetry and prose have appeared in dozens of litmags, anthologies and ezines and have twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She’s an adjunct instructor at Austin Community College.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, September 21st, 2009.