on not knowing

After “On Not Knowing Greek”
-Virginia Woolf

broken we meet Orpheus & his lute
at play in sunlight among olive trees
the mind speaks darkly
time is short be content
stretch every metaphor

amplify reverberation
reflect meaning explode dramatic
at whatever cost
descend to process
painfully critically

dawn rises to music through the night
bare & abrupt
our emotions
break up before we feel them
being dead we bruise our minds

the nightingale sings
an image of reality
not reality itself
in the heart of
a boreal winter

laugh in the right place read quickly
to find out what happens next
the sea in their ears
fate a sadness at the back of life
yet alive to endure consolation


Puerto Rican Canadian María Helena Auerbach Rykov lives in Tkaronto.

Questions and Answers

Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?

I have always been attuned to sound and language. My early years in the Boricua soundscape—the native coqui frog that sounds like a songbird, the trade winds, the surf, my father’s violin—all fed my inherent musicality. I delighted in A. A. Milne’s rhythmic “Disobedience” poem from When We Were Very Young and the “Aroz con leche” nursery song.


How/where do you find inspiration today?

I cannot not respond to the beauty, humour, and horror of everyday life. I find literary inspiration everywhere if I just look, listen, and contemplate. Repetitive physical movement (walking, cycling) also stimulates my literary production. And I never underestimate the literary potential of even a brief nap, especially in the presence of a napping child or animal.


Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. books, films, art, websites, etc.)?

In addition to reading literary criticism, I read voraciously within and beyond my comfort zone. I enjoy reading through Canadian Poetry Online and receiving a poem each day from Poetry Foundation.


As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?

Poets must continuously hone their  craft, persist, persevere, and not take rejection personally. Dust off that last rejection and turn it into the next submission. In the words of the late David McFadden, a Griffin Poetry Prize laureate, just keep writing and sending them out . . .

This poem “on not knowing” originally appeared in Poetics and Extraction 2 Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 253 (2023): 157-158.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.