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Louise Glück (1943-


Selections from *Ararat*, 1990

A FANTASY

I'll tell you something: every day
people are dying. And that's just the beginning.
Every day, in funeral homes, new widows are born,
new orphans. They sit with their hands folded,
trying to decide about this new life.

Then they're in the cemetery, some of them
for the first time. They're frightened of crying,
sometimes of not crying. Someone leans over,
tells them what to do next, which might mean
saying a few words, sometimes 
throwing dirt in the open grave.

And after that, everyone goes back to the house,
which is suddenly full of visitors.
The widow sits on the couch, very stately,
so people line up to approach her,
sometimes take her hand, sometimes embrace her.
She finds something to say to everbody,
thanks them, thanks them for coming.

In her heart, she wants them to go away.
She wants to be back in the cemetery,
back in the sickroom, the hospital. She knows
it isn't possible. But it's her only hope,
the wish to move backward. And just a little,
not so far as the marriage, the first kiss.


WIDOWS

My mother's playing cards with my aunt,
Spite and Malice, the family pastime, the game
my grandmother taught all her daughters.

Midsummer: too hot to go out.
Today, my aunt's ahead; she's getting the good cards.
My mother's dragging, having trouble with her concentration.
She can't get used to her own bed this summer.
She had no trouble last summer, 
getting used to the floor. She learned to sleep there
to be near my father.
He was dying; he got a special bed.

My aunt doesn't give an inch, doesn't make
allowance for my mother's weariness.
It's how they were raised: you show respect by fighting.
To let up insults the opponent.

Each player has one pile to the left, five cards in the hand.
It's good to stay inside on days like this,
to stay where it's cool.
And this is better than other games, better than solitaire.

My grandmother thought ahead; she prepared her daughters.
They have cards; they have each other.
They don't need any more companionship.

All afternoon the game goes on but the sun doesn't move.
It just keeps beating down, turning the grass yellow.
That's how it must seem to my mother.
And then, suddenly, something is over.

My aunt's been at it longer; maybe that's why she's playing better.
Her cards evaporate: that's what you want, that's the object: in the end,
the one who has nothing wins.


LULLABY

My mother's an expert in one thing:
sending people she loves into the other world.
The little ones, the babies—these
she rocks, whispering or singing quietly. I can't say
what she did for my father; 
whatever it was, I'm sure it was right.

It's the same thing, really, preparing a person 
for sleep, for death. The lullabies—they all say
don't be afraid, that's how they paraphrase 
the heartbeat of the mother.
So the living grow slowly calm; it's only
the dying who can't, who refuse.

The dying are like tops, like gyroscopes—
they spin so rapidly they seem to be still.
Then they fly apart: in my mother's arms,
my sister was a cloud of atoms, of particles—that's the difference.
When a child's asleep, it's still whole.

My mother's seen death; she doesn't talk about the soul's integrity.
She's held an infant, an old man, as by comparison the dark grew
solid around them, finally changing to earth.

The soul's like all matter:
why would it stay intact, stay faithful to its one form,
when it could be free?


SAINTS

In our family, there were two saints,
my aunt and my grandmother.
But their lives were different.

My grandmother's was tranquil, even at the end.
She was like a person walking in calm water;
for some reason
the sea couldn't bring itself to hurt her.
When my aunt took the same path,
the waves broke over her, they attacked her,
which is how the Fates respond 
to a true spiritual nature.

My grandmother was cautious, conservative:
that's why she escaped suffering.
My aunt's escaped nothing;
each time the sea retreats, someone she loves is taken away.

Still she won't experience 
the sea as evil. To her, it is what it is:
where it touches land, it must turn to violence.


SNOW

Late December: my father and I
are going to New York, to the circus.
He holds me
on his shoulders in the bitter wind:
scraps of white paper 
blow over the railroad ties.

My father liked 
to stand like this, to hold me
so he couldn't see me.
I remember 
staring straight ahead
into the world my father saw;
I was learning 
to absorb its emptiness,
the heavy snow
not falling, whirling around us.


FIRST MEMORY

Long ago, I was wounded. I lived
to revenge myself
against my father, not
for what he was—
for what I was: from the beginning of time,
in childhood, I thought
that pain meant 
I was not loved.
It meant I loved.

Selections from *The Wild Iris*, 1993


THE WILD IRIS

At the end of my suffering 
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive 
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be 
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.


SNOWDROPS

Do you know what I was, how I lived?  You know 
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn't expect 
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering 
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring—

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.


RETREATING WIND

When I made you, I loved you.
Now I pity you.

I gave you all you needed:
bed of earth, blanket of blue air—

As I get further away from you
I see you more clearly.
Your souls should have been immense by now,
not what they are,
small talking things—

I gave you every gift,
blue of the spring morning,
time you didn't know how to use—
you wanted more, the one gift
reserved for another creation.

Whatever you hoped, 
you will not find yourselves in the garden,
among the growing plants.
Your lives are not circular like theirs:

your lives are the bird's flight
which begins and ends in stillness—
which begins and ends, in form echoing
this arc from the white birch 
to the apple tree.


APRIL

No one's despair is like my despair—

You have no place in this garden
thinking such things, producing
the tiresome outward signs; the man
pointedly weeding an entire forest,
the woman limping, refusing to change clothes
or wash her hair.

Do you suppose I care 
if you speak to one another?
But I mean you to know
I expected better of two creatures
who were given minds: if not
that you would actually care for each other
at least that you would understand 
grief is distributed 
between you, among all your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.


MATINS

You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending 
to be weeding. You ought to know
I'm never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I'm looking for courage, for some evidence 
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking 
each clump for the symbolic 
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always 
to continue without a sign?


EARLY DARKNESS

How can you say
earth should give me joy?  Each thing
born is my burden; I cannot succeed
with all of you.

And you would like to dictate to me,
you would like to tell me
who among you is most valuable,
who most resembles me.
And you hold up as an example
the pure life, the detachment
you struggle to acheive—

How can you understand me 
when you cannot understand yourselves?
Your memory is not
powerful enough, it will not
reach back far enough—

Never forget you are my children.
You are not suffering because you touched each other
but because you were born,
because you required life
separate from me.


VESPERS

End of August. Heat
like a tent over
John's garden. And some things
have the nerve to be getting started,
clusters of tomatoes, stands 
of late lilies—optimism 
of the great stalks—imperial
gold and silver: but why
start anything
so close to the end?
Tomatoes that will never ripen, lilies
winter will kill, that won't 
come back in spring. Or
are you thinking
I spend too much time
looking ahead, like
an old woman wearing
sweaters in summer;
are you saying I can 
flourish, having
no hope
of enduring? Blaze of the red cheek, glory
of the open throat, white,
spotted with crimson.


THE GOLD LILY

As I perceive
I am dying now and know
I will not speak again, will not
survive the earth, be summoned
out of it again, not
a flower yet, a spine only, raw dirt
catching my ribs, I call you,
father and master: all around,
my companions are failing, thinking
you do not see. How 
can they know you see 
unless you save us?
In the summer twilight, are you
close enough to hear 
your child's terror? Or 
are you not my father,
you who raised me?


THE WHITE LILIES

As a man and woman make
a garden between them like
a bed of stars, here
they linger in the summer evening
and the evening turns 
cold with their terror: it
could all end, it is capable
of devastation. All, all
can be lost, through scented air
the narrow columns
uselessly rising, and beyond,
a churning sea of poppies—

Hush, beloved.  It doesn't matter to me
how many summers I live to return:
this one summer we have entered eternity.
I felt your two hands 
bury me to release its splendor.

From:

Gluck, Louise. *Ararat*. Hopewell: The Ecco Press, 1990.

Gluck, Louise. *The Wild Iris*. Hopewell: The Ecco Press, 1992.

Disclaimer: I have no permission from anyone to put this up on the Web. It is very possibly a complete violation of extant copyright law. However, I do have a life (although it may not be obvious to the casual onlooker), and typing all this up is a complete and utter labor of my unabashed hero worship for the person quoted above. So don't sue, please.


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