The Griffin

by Joanne Diaz

For George Herbert, the rational and the emotional
were not separate spheres. Thinking meant feeling;
a sermon on the complexities of predestination

was as exciting as a country girl sitting in the front pew.
I learned this lesson best fourteen years ago
from a tutor in England who met with me each Tuesday.

Her last name was Griffin, which was, I thought,
the most interesting thing about her. I’d imagine her
with a beak and talons, lion’s claws and tail,

screeching through the streets of Oxford
in her search for a good kidney pie.
But our meetings were dismal for both of us:

I thought rhymed poetry was a yawn
and she kept squinting toward the tiny desk clock
for the minute she could be alone again. One afternoon,

after several like this, she must have decided
that reading aloud could help. She cleared her throat,
adjusted her giant glasses, opened to “The Collar,”

and read. With her Cornish lilt, she lingered
over Shall I ever sigh and pine? as if it were
her own question, and by the time she got to

Is the year only lost to me? she seemed to have forgotten
Herbert, and me, altogether. I saw a struggle in her,
heard a tightening in her throat, then a weeping

after she uttered the final words, and then
she nearly left the prison of her body, her tears
revealing that she really was part lion, part eagle.

Recently, a friend told me that writing a poem
about reading is a fool’s errand, worse than taking
a snapshot of a photograph. But how often

have I read Herbert’s poem in the years since,
only to hear the unexplained weeping, and the choler
that bound the griffin, even as she flexed her wings.


Joanne Diaz has an MFA from New York University and a PhD in Renaissance literature from Northwestern University. Her work her appeared in AGNI, The American Poetry Review, The Southern Review, and Third Coast. In 2009 she was the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her first book, Violin, won the Gerald Cable Book Award and will be published by Silverfish Review Press in 2011.