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142x155 mm, 24 pages, 250 gsm Gold Strata card cover with colour illustration, green endpapers, hand sewn with red twist.  

ISBN 1 903090 43 1  

Cover illustration: The Banker and His Wife by Quentin Massys

Susan Wheeler's books of poetry include
Bag 'o' Diamonds
(sic) (U of Georgia Press),
(Four Way Books), and
Source Codes (SALT), and her novel Record Palace is forthcoming from Graywolf Press.

See below for an extract from The Debtor in the Convex Mirror.

Click here to read the full text at Boston Review.

Click here to go to Susan Wheeler's home page.

Ordering Information

From Boston Review.

Winner of the Sixth Annual Boston Review Poetry Contest

Introduced by Richard Howard

The winning poem of this year’s Boston Review poetry contest is an extended dramatic meditation on problems and principles of owing and figuration. We begin (a historically grounded ekphrasis) with an inspection (coached by the famous expert in Flemish art Walter Friedländer) of Quentin Massys’s famous 1514 painting of the moneylender and his wife (in the Louvre) which “owes” so much to Leonardo and Van Eyck, and which climaxes a theme much rehearsed in European art of the period. In a sense the poem is an answer to the question of why so many people should have wanted to own a picture of tax men gloating over their imposts—bringing us up to date in New York, by way of a shoplifter’s scene (“she watched the cashier in the convex mirror”) and a parting glance in the car that takes us away from the museum. There is a whirling sense of the shift from Renaissance Antwerp to modern New York by way of the speaker’s response to the painting (“the debtor does not know his debt to the skittering city . . . he crams so much in, Massys . . . Or is it metaphor, what we strive for, we poets”), and an astonishing series of identifications between the figures glimpsed (as in the convex mirror) and imagined as they are reckoned in the ledgers of history. The poem is complex, fruitfully bewildering, but minutely rewarding, beautifully phrased and intimately focused as it is (“my guide in these matters is yourself, / your own soul permeable by beauty, and mine not, not even by the swirling of facts”). It requires rereading, and each time repays with new discoveries, new delights.

from The Debtor in the Convex Mirror.

He counts it out. By now from abroad there are shillings and real – 
Bohemian silver fills the new coins – but his haul is gold, écu au soleil, 
excelente, mostly: wafers thin and impressed with their marks, milled 
new world’s gold the Spanish pluck or West African ore Portugal’s 

slaves sling. The gold wafers gleam in their spill by the scale.
Calm before gale: what bought a sack a century before almost 
buys a sack now; the Price Revolution’s to come.  A third of a mason’s – 
a master one’s – day’s wage funds the night’s wine, Rhine, for his crew

after a big job wraps up.  As for dried herring, his day’s wage would buy
fifteen mille for a big do; his workers, just nine – 18 stroo.  Calm in his
commerce is the businessman, and his wife, their disheveled shelves:
she turns a page; her hands are in God but her gaze is on ange-nobles

and pearls, weights and gold rings – one florin in pan, one in his hand.
What sync they are in: calm their regard, luxe, volupté their mien.  
Fur trimmings on jackets, gemstones on fingers – while the 
debtor in the mirror has spent what he has on the red hat he’s in.

Prayer book illumined: luxury that, and to ignore: only more.  
Calmed by the calculation of interest, though the figure’s been 
clear for a good quarter hour, the moneylender withholds it and waits:  
the debtor is better with fuzz in his head. In truth, he’s distressed: cares  

like the shield impressed in the écu dint the meet of his brow 
beneath the red hat. What’s he reading? Or faking?  Caught in the 
curve of an office’s alarm, an anti- to crime, a drugstore’s big boon 
long centuries to come, the debtor – about to receive knell to what

peace he might otherwise recall – worries his page. Ability for
reading silently may not be his; the lender’s wife puts him to shame, 
though the shame in this is the least of his shames. In the yard 
beyond her waits one of his lienors for the gold of another.

Schoolmarms ahoy.  Scrap history, the parable, the prayer of the 
illustrated hours she trembles to hold.  He’s got his gold, she’s mes-
merized or not by its sheen, the debtor’s lost to our reflecting of him – 
but it’s without, a measurement is made – a figure’s gesture on the 

gravitate street, the fury of a face in its face, behind the door ajar, the 
fingers of the lienor demarcating fast the size of a peck or a pecker 
not so. The debt is as large as a giant’s back turning, large as 
a vulcanic forge.  And 

 	fragment of the debt imbursed – 
						size of its toy – 

intense regard.

Fume individually, fume 

borrower, clipper, catcher, coiner, getter, grabber, hoarder, loser, lover, raiser, 
spender, teller, thirster – scrivener lays out upon collateral, but what has the red-hat? Zero and then sum.