A key theme of this poem is conflict, or perhaps the gap, between the actuality of nature, our perception of it and the frustrations and disconnects that result from our attempts to describe it with our limited language. A couple of early examples expressing these themes:
Between branch and spire - the word
Belittles its nest, and the seed, rocked
By simpler confines will not confess.
Speech could not cobble the swamp,
And so you dance for a brighter silence
This is an echo of the mystical Jewish tradition known as Kabbalah. According to this, God created the universe partly using the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
"By means of the twenty two letters, by giving them a form and shape, by mixing them and combining them in different ways, God made the soul of all that which has been created and all of that which will be. It is upon these same letters that the Holy One (blessed be he) has founded his high and holy name."
- from the Sefer Yetsirah
Kabbalistic scholars believed that since God used language to create the cosmos it might be possible, therefore, to use that same language to divine the will of God. This connects back to the poem's thesis of our problems connecting to nature.
How does this relate to the poem's title? The wheel is a recurring theme in Kabbalistic imagery. Indeed the creation story in this tradition is sometimes portrayed as turning a wheel. The wheel also occurs in other semi-mystic Asian religions, such as the Buddhist prayer wheel and wheel of fortune.
We can infer this from the several references to God and creation in the poem. It mirrors the act of God's creation with the creative act of the artist or poet. Indeed at one point, it refers to the wheel as part of a literal act of creation through language:
But gales nourish
Chance: breath, blooming, while the wheel scores
Its writing into earth.
Most wheels have an even number of spokes. This one, however, has 13 - the number of stanzas in the poem. This is why:
Was deception. It cannot turn.
An expression of the flaws that arise in using language to try and understand or express nature. The poet is expressing guilt at his inability to use his own creation to accurately do justice to that of God.
Spokes was Auster's first published poem. He would return to its themes of perfect and imperfect language in the plots of his novels City of Glass and The Brooklyn Follies.
- Unsaying: Mystical Aspiration and Negativity in Paul Auster’s Poetry, François Hugonnier, Caliban: French Journal of English Studies.