“Nothing sings in our bodies / like breath in a flute” (Hogan 416). The first two lines of Linda Hogan’s poem “Nothing” sound almost flippant upon the first reading, the way someone might say “nothing tastes like chocolate in the afternoon,” or, in the words of Sinead O’Connor, “nothing compares to you.” In these two examples, “nothing” refers to that which is non-existent, either in matter or in thought. But the speaker in Hogan’s poem offers a very different definition of “nothing:” it is the invisible, vital, life energy which inhabits, animates, and connects all things.
Nothing takes up space: “it dwells in the drum.” It has sound: “I hear it now / that slow beat.” It is the matter from which life can be created, like the “blue fish / born of nothing.” It is also the intangible but very real love we have for others, like the “nothing” offered by the speaker’s hands as she touches the man in her bed, the same nothing her hands offered to “wash the dead” and “the just born.”
In an interview with Carol Miller, Hogan said she loves to write poetry because “it is like a whole body experience” (Miller). “Nothing” is a poem which illustrates this “whole body experience” perfectly. Not only are the flute and the drum bodies which contain nothing, but the speaker’s body, which has “still a little life / left,” is filled with nothing. In the end, this nothing is vast enough to include even emptiness, the necessary internal void we all possess which allows us too “enter in one another.” Love, life, sound, matter, birth, death—when the speaker states “take nothing from me,” she is offering everything she is.
Hogan, Linda. “Nothing.” Modern American Poetry. Ed. Joseph Coulson, Peter Temes, and Jim Baldwin. Chicago: The Great Books Foundation. 2002. 416.
Miller, Carol. 1989 Interview with Linda Hogan. SAIL – Studies in American Indian Literature. 4 December 2004.
Copyright Amy J. Grier 2004