Noah Eli Gordon is the author of six books, including Novel Pictorial Noise(Harper Perennial, 2007), which was selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series. He writes a column on chapbooks for Rain Taxi: Review of Books and teaches at the University of Colorado Denver.
"Noah Eli Gordon's poems take the form of jotted notes in an artist's notebook (I was reminded in particular of Odilon Redon's). Each day one begins anew to weave the web, having moved a step forward (or sometimes backward) since yesterday's attempt. Thus each prose bloc, modified or modulated by the ghostly fragments that interleave them, sharpens the focus by which he 'attempt[s] via the unknown to give grammar a purpose.' The effort in itself is its own reward, and a prodigal one."
– John Ashbery
three spider stories
Noah Eli Gordon
In the first spider story I am a small child. I mark my height on the wall in green pen, challenging my smallness. Slowly, the marks rise. A spider deposits itself underneath a thick leaf in the backyard. I tell no one my discovery, as I told no one about the tooth I'd lost before placing it beneath a pillow, where it remained well into the following afternoon. My discovery is not the spider, but the compulsion to experience the fear that it elicits. What frightens me is the certainty of its color, jet-black made all the more so against the soft green of the large leaf. For weeks, I check daily on the spider. It hasn't moved from its tiny canopy. In solidarity, I change the color of my marks, which continue to rise, well after the morning of the spider's disappearance.
Like you, I am reading, but unlike you, I am faced with an awful dilemma. If I move from my current position—flat on my stomach, chest propped up by two pillows, arms bent at the elbows, book in hand—if I move at all, succumb to the overwhelming impulse to cringe and recoil in disgust, I risk a fate even worse. That I know this is the only thing granting me stillness. Like you, I am reading. A spider the size of an acorn sits on the inner cuff of my shirtsleeve, staring outward, nearly touching my wrist. A few seconds pass. I'm frozen. A few more, a full minute, two, three. I'm transfixed. There are laws to consider, laws of gravity, geometry, physics, but I am reading Fools Crow, a novel permeated by a communal understanding and respect between humans and the animals moving through their lives. Somehow, with a single, instantaneous motion, I contort my body in such a way that the spider flips from my sleeve onto the bedroom floor. Immediately, I crush it beneath the book.
In an hour, I have a job interview at Acme Surplus, a discount store in the basement of Thornes Marketplace. I want to look decent, pick out a shirt barely worn from the back of the closet, straighten myself, and step on the porch for a smoke before making the trek downtown. Something stings me, a few ashes I think. No, this is worse, continuous. Like someone's stubbing hundreds of cigarettes on my wrist. I unbutton the shirt, pull it off, twisting the sleeves inside-out. There's a small grey clump, pulsating like a miniature heart. For a moment, I'm baffled, then I see twin mandibles extending outward from the mess. The spider had barricaded itself in silk and was striking frantically at whatever monstrosity invaded its home. In comparing those who turn from God to a spider building its house, the Koran calls the spider's the frailest of all houses. As punishment for her ambition, Arachne, who dared consider her skill with weaving as something other than a gift from the gods, was turned into a spider. I get the job, work there fresh out of college at near minimum wage for a year. Mostly, I hide in the backroom, reading.