Negative Space


Where the body isn’t – that’s how
dancers know me. Sculptors bend
their clay and steel against

my emptiness. Somehow, though I’m
not giving it a thought, I nudge
a shadow from a twist

of bronze or change the way
a breast and elbow size
each other up. Writers like to wrap

white space around their wit,
but I’m not white,
not bound or folded. I’m your

zero with its circumference
erased, an abandoned building
once the building’s gone. Let’s say

a heavy childhood event
has bent your life, shaped
what you’ve become. Now you find

it never happened. Nothing
there at all. That’s me.




About Conrad Hilberry

Conrad Hilberry was born in Ferndale, Michigan, and is a longtime resident of the Great Lakes region. He earned a BA from Oberlin College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; he was a professor of English at Kalamazoo College in Michigan from 1962 to 1998.

Conrad Hilberry working at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (Photo by Katey Schultz courtesy

Hilberry has written twelve collections of poetry, including Encounter on Burrows Hill and Other Poems (1968), Rust (1974), Man in the Attic (1980), Sorting the Smoke: New and Selected Poems (1990), winner of the Iowa Prize, Player Piano: Poems (2000), The Fingernail of Luck (2005), and After-Music (2008). In 2009 he co-authored This Awkward Art: Poems by a Father and Daughter with the poet Jane Hilberry, his daughter.

A master of both free verse and received forms, Hilberry infuses the familiar and everyday with intellectual insight. Poet Henry Taylor has said that Hilberry’s poems possess “the spooky ability to make odd, though rarely surreal, connections. The poems move with quiet authority from the observation of a particular, and of the possibilities surrounding it, to exploration of what might happen next. The miracle is that they do this without arbitrariness.”

Hilberry is also the author of the nonfiction book Luke Karamazov (1987), an account of serial murderers in Kalamazoo. He has co-edited three volumes of “Third Coast” poetry from Michigan—the most recent, New Poems from the Third Coast: Contemporary Michigan Poetry, in 2000.

Hilberry’s awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry and a Michigan Arts Award.

“Negative Space” © Conrad Hilberry. This poem originally appeared in The Fingernail of Luck (Mayapple Press) and was reprinted with permission from the author.