Read Poems 1962-2012 Online

Authors: Louise Glück

Poems 1962-2012 (8 page)

BOOK: Poems 1962-2012
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with its impulse to build. And under my fingers,

the square white keys, each stamped

with its single character. I believed

a mind's shattering released

the objects of its scrutiny: trees, blue plums in a bowl,

a man reaching for his wife's hand

across a slatted table, and quietly covering it,

as though his will enclosed it in that gesture.

I saw them come apart, the glazed clay

begin dividing endlessly, dispersing

incoherent particles that went on

shining forever. I dreamed of watching that

the way we watched the stars on summer evenings,

my hand on your chest, the wine

holding the chill of the river. There is no such light.

And pain, the free hand, changes almost nothing.

Like the winter wind, it leaves

settled forms in the snow. Known, identifiable—

except there are no uses for them.


At first when you went away

I was frightened; then

a boy touched me on the street,

his eyes were level with mine,

clear and grieving: I

called him in; I spoke to him

in our language,

but his hands were yours,

so gently making their murderous claim—

And then it didn't matter

which one of you I called,

the wound was that deep.


The Logos

They were both still,

the woman mournful, the man

branching into her body.

But god was watching.

They felt his gold eye

projecting flowers on the landscape.

Who knew what he wanted?

He was god, and a monster.

So they waited. And the world

filled with his radiance,

as though he wanted to be understood.

Far away, in the void that he had shaped,

he turned to his angels.


A forest rose from the earth.

O pitiful, so needing

God's furious love—

Together they were beasts.

They lay in the fixed

dusk of his negligence;

from the hills, wolves came, mechanically

drawn to their human warmth,

their panic.

Then the angels saw

how He divided them:

the man, the woman, and the woman's body.

Above the churned reeds, the leaves let go

a slow moan of silver.

The Covenant

Out of fear, they built a dwelling place.

But a child grew between them

as they slept, as they tried

to feed themselves.

They set it on a pile of leaves,

the small discarded body

wrapped in the clean skin

of an animal. Against the black sky

they saw the massive argument of light.

Sometimes it woke. As it reached its hands

they understood they were the mother and father,

there was no authority above them.

The Clearing

Gradually, over many years,

the fur disappeared from their bodies

until they stood in the bright light

strange to one another.

Nothing was as before.

Their hands trembled, seeking

the familiar.

Nor could they keep their eyes

from the white flesh

on which wounds would show clearly

like words on a page.

And from the meaningless browns and greens

at last God arose, His great shadow

darkening the sleeping bodies of His children,

and leapt into heaven.

How beautiful it must have been,

the earth, that first time

seen from the air.




First blossom in the wet grass—

O my body, you were given

only the one task, why

will you not repeat it?


“But if, as some say,… his suffering was only an appearance, then why am I a prisoner, and why do I long to fight with the wild beasts?”


“Joey was beginning to know good from evil. And whoever does that is committed to live a human existence on earth.”




It is not the moon, I tell you.

It is these flowers

lighting the yard.

I hate them.

I hate them as I hate sex,

the man's mouth

sealing my mouth, the man's

paralyzing body—

and the cry that always escapes,

the low, humiliating

premise of union—

In my mind tonight

I hear the question and pursuing answer

fused in one sound

that mounts and mounts and then

is split into the old selves,

the tired antagonisms. Do you see?

We were made fools of.

And the scent of mock orange

drifts through the window.

How can I rest?

How can I be content

when there is still

that odor in the world?



The angel of death flies

low over my father's bed.

Only my mother sees. She and my father

are alone in the room.

She bends over him to touch

his hand, his forehead. She is

so used to mothering

that now she strokes his body

as she would the other children's,

first gently, then

inured to suffering.

Nothing is any different.

Even the spot on the lung

was always there.


My father has forgotten me

in the excitement of dying.

Like a child who will not eat,

he takes no notice of anything.

I sit at the edge of his bed

while the living circle us

like so many tree stumps.

Once, for the smallest

fraction of an instant, I thought

he was alive in the present again;

then he looked at me

as a blind man stares

straight into the sun, since

whatever it could do to him

is done already.

Then his flushed face

turned away from the contract.

For My Father

I'm going to live without you

as I learned once

to live without my mother.

You think I don't remember that?

I've spent my whole life trying to remember.

Now, after so much solitude,

death doesn't frighten me,

not yours, not mine either.

And those words,
the last time,

have no power over me. I know

intense love always leads to mourning.

For once, your body doesn't frighten me.

From time to time, I run my hand over your face

lightly, like a dustcloth.

What can shock me now? I feel

no coldness that can't be explained.

Against your cheek, my hand is warm

and full of tenderness.


I was born in the month of the bull,

the month of heaviness,

or of the lowered, the destructive head,

or of purposeful blindness. So I know, beyond the shadowed

patch of grass, the stubborn one, the one who doesn't look up,

still senses the rejected world. It is

a stadium, a well of dust. And you who watch him

looking down in the face of death, what do you know

of commitment? If the bull lives

one controlled act of revenge, be satisfied

that in the sky, like you, he is always moving,

not of his own accord but through the black field

like grit caught on a wheel, like shining freight.


He did not pretend

to be one of them. They did not require

a poet, a spokesman. He saw

the dog's heart, the working

lips of the parasite—

He himself preferred

to listen in the small apartments

as a man would check his camera at the museum,

to express his commitment through silence:

there is no other exile.

The rest is egotism; in the bloody street,

the I, the impostor—

there, obsessed with revolution,

in his own city,

daily climbing the wooden stairs

that were not a path

but necessary repetitions

and for twenty years

making no poetry

of what he saw: nor did he forfeit

great achievement. In his mind,

there could be no outcry that did not equate

his choice with their imprisonment

and he would not allow

the gift to be tainted.



Today, when I woke up, I asked myself

why did Christ die? Who knows

the meaning of such questions?

It was a winter morning, unbelievably cold.

So the thoughts went on,

from each question came

another question, like a twig from a branch,

like a branch from a black trunk.


At a time like this

a young woman traveled through the desert settlements

looking neither forward nor backward,

sitting in perfect composure on the tired animal

as the child stirred, still sealed in its profound attachment—

The husband walked slightly ahead, older, out of place;

increasingly, the mule stumbled, the path becoming

difficult in darkness, though they persisted

in a world like our world, not ruled

by man but by a statue in heaven—


Above the crowds representing

humankind, the lost

citizens of a remote time,

the insulted body

raised on a cross like a criminal

to die publicly

above Jerusalem, the shimmering city

while in great flocks

birds circled the body, not partial

to this form over the others

since men were all alike,

defeated by the air,

whereas in air

the body of a bird becomes a banner:

But the lesson that was needed

was another lesson.


In untrustworthy springtime

he was seen moving

among us like one of us

in green Judea, covered with the veil of life,

among the olive trees, among the many shapes

blurred by spring,

stopping to eat and rest, in obvious need,

among the thousand flowers,

some planted, some distributed by wind,

like all men, seeking

recognition on earth,

so that he spoke to the disciples

in a man's voice, lifting his intact hand:

was it the wind that spoke?

Or stroked Mary's hair, until she raised her eyes

no longer wounded

by his coldness, by his needless destruction

of the flesh which was her fulfillment—

This was not the sun.

This was Christ in his cocoon of light:

so they swore. And there were other witnesses

though they were all blind,

they were all swayed by love—


Winters are long here.

The road a dark gray, the maples gray, silvered with lichen,

and the sun low on the horizon,

white on blue; at sunset, vivid orange-red.

When I shut my eyes, it vanishes.

When I open my eyes, it reappears.

Outside, spring rain, a pulse, a film on the window.

And suddenly it is summer, all puzzling fruit and light.


It was as though you were a man in a wheelchair,

your legs cut off at the knee.

But I wanted you to walk.

I wanted us to walk like lovers,

arm in arm in the summer evening,

and believed so powerfully in that projection

that I had to speak, I had to press you to stand.

Why did you let me speak?

I took your silence as I took the anguish in your face,

as part of the effort to move—

It seemed I stood forever, holding out my hand.

And all that time, you could no more heal yourself

than I could accept what I saw.


When the stern god

approached me with his gift

my fear enchanted him

so that he ran more quickly

through the wet grass, as he insisted,

to praise me. I saw captivity

in praise; against the lyre,

I begged my father in the sea

to save me. When

the god arrived, I was nowhere,

I was in a tree forever. Reader,

pity Apollo: at the water's edge,

I turned from him, I summoned

my invisible father—as

I stiffened in the god's arms,

of his encompassing love

my father made

no other sign from the water.



Is that an attitude for a flower, to stand

like a club at the walk; poor slain boy,

is that a way to show

gratitude to the gods? White

with colored hearts, the tall flowers

sway around you, all the other boys,

in the cold spring, as the violets open.


There were no flowers in antiquity

but boys' bodies, pale, perfectly imagined.

So the gods sank to human shape with longing.

In the field, in the willow grove,

Apollo sent the courtiers away.


And from the blood of the wound

a flower sprang, lilylike, more brilliant

than the purples of Tyre.

Then the god wept: his vital grief

BOOK: Poems 1962-2012
3.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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