Negative Space

Negative Space

The absence of compassion acts like the negative space
used by an artist who unveils images to the viewer by
painting around emptiness, drawing the eye to what
is not there, revealing what is, by what is missing.

Compassion is best understood in its absence,
when someone else’s indifference takes its place.
When being alive feels as though rivers of
shattered glass flow through one’s veins,
opening invisible wounds that one knows
must be there, hiding beneath stoicism.

Experience often is defined by negative space.
Love by its lack, truth by its omission,
interest where there is none, knowledge by its dearth,
and certainty by decisions left unmade.

The whole of one’s life unlived is a study in negative space.
Romantic relationships that could have been, but were not.
The unmade bed, the garden not planted, the journey not made,
children not conceived, and job offers never received.
What could have been, but was not, is as important
as what was allowed but should have been prevented.

Negative space, with carefully crafted emptiness, expresses what is.
Perhaps, then, carefully crafted fullness expresses what is not.
That calls into question whether reality is simply an
expression of the absence of fantasy—or vice versa.

Jennifer Warnes was 45 years old when she released her album, The Hunter. I am especially enamored of two songs on that album:  Way Down Deep and Rock Me Gently. Another of her songs (actually, her cover of a Leonard Cohen song) on a different album (but I do not recall which one), First We Take Manhattan, is another favorite. I know Warnes was 45 when she released The Hunter because I stumbled upon her current age (76) this morning. I was surprised to learn she has aged so much since 1992, when she released that album, because I know I have not! When I thought of her this morning, I thought of her as the relatively young woman (okay, middle-aged) who released that album. Warnes collaborated with Leonard Cohen quite a lot and was featured on several of his albums as a backup singer and/or an accompanying singer. I knew that, but I mention it here because I do not know whether you knew and, if you did not, I figured you would want to know.


I have written only a few poems I think are worthy of being read in a public setting. Actually, I may be giving myself more credit than is due; perhaps they are better suited to private readings. The poem above, Negative Space, is not one of them. I wrote it this morning.  I am moderately satisfied with the first two or three stanzas, but it goes downhill from there. I suppose I will eventually return to it and rewrite it (probably discarding the remaining stanzas in total), but I do not know whether it will ever be one of those I feel relatively good about. Yet I still occasionally write poetry because writing poetry sometimes helps me think through either intellectual or emotional obstacles of one sort of another. Or, in some cases, it allows me to express—far better than non-fiction prose or plain fiction—abstract ideas that I can express only within the emotional framework of a poem. But that may not be entirely true. In fact, I do not know what is true and what is not. I may have been deluding myself my entire life. Not “may have been.” No, it is definite. My Birkman Report (the summary of my Birkman & Associates psychological measurement [The Birkman Method]) says about me, when I am under pressure: “tells stories and believes them.” I have mentioned my Birkman Report twice before on this blog: the first time was on November 19, 2014 and the second was on November 10, 2018. As usual, I have wandered far, far away from the topic that began this paragraph. I doubt there is any question that I suffer with (or through) ADD or something like it. But that self-diagnosis has never been confirmed by a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist. Nor will it be confirmed by one of those folks; I have no compelling reason to seek out a diagnosis of what could be dozens of disorders and other sorts of deviance.


Meteorologists are not inveterate liars, despite the fact that their assertions often prove to be fundamentally flawed. From time to time, in fact, they are dead-on. But their earlier promise of considerably cooler temperatures this week seems to be falling apart. Instead of highs in the low to mid-80s, they’re now saying high-80s to low-90s. That is unacceptable. I hereby demand they revert their predictions to mirror their earlier forecasts!


It’s just after 7, time to put this post to rest. Today is house-cleaning day, which means either I will clean house or will feel guilt for having opted to do something else, instead. That’s probably the wrong attitude to have. I should try to fill that negative space in my head with positive thoughts.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Negative Space

  1. I can see what you’re saying, Todd. 🙂

  2. Todd says:

    ” “

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