Hello, suddenly summer.
I sneakily found a way to secretly spend the entire afternoon in the sunlight – one third in a coffee shop filled with keys, one third in a book store filled with light, and the last third on a bench outside an ice cream parlor filled with vinyl records.
Curiously, I talked to three different men all sharing the same name at each place.
There’s a pattern here. And it matters.
I went underground, appropriately, as I read about Persephone.
I saw a ghost of my past sitting in one of the seats.
Then, what was left of me that hadn’t already melted from sunlight and history promptly fell to pieces as I read the rest of it on the way from Bergen Street to Court Square.
Dean Young said once that poetry is an art of beginnings and endings. If you want middles, read a novel.
A note before you attempt to read this:
If you are going to attempt it. I confess that reading poetry is REALLY hard for me, too. I don’t often have the patience to read more than a fraction of a poem. I *almost* wanted to post the last line of this excerpt, but that would ruin everything. We shouldn’t reveal the endings of things before it is appropriate, should we? Try treating this one like meditation. Go very slow. Allow yourself to pause when you want to. But read it the whole way through. I usually only post small stanzas or quotes because they are the most relevant, and I thought about including a “tl;dr” for this one, but this entire excerpt is relevant.
The relevance of the entire body that is only a part of a whole.
As excerpted in the New York Times: Louise Glück’s ‘Averno‘
Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted
didn’t the night end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters
wasn’t my body
rescued, wasn’t it safe
didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury
terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted-
I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t vines climb the south wall
I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground
I no longer care
what sound it makes
when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound
what it sounds like can’t change what it is-
didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth
safe when it was planted
didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,
the vines, were they harvested?
Summer after summer has ended,
balm after violence:
it does me no good
to be good to me now;
violence has changed me.
Daybreak. The low hills shine
ochre and fire, even the fields shine.
I know what I see; sun that could be
the August sun, returning
everything that was taken away-
You hear this voice? This is my mind’s voice;
you can’t touch my body now.
It has changed once, it has hardened,
don’t ask it to respond again.
A day like a day in summer.
Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples
nearly mauve on the gravel paths.
And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer.
It does me no good; violence has changed me.
My body has grown cold like the stripped fields;
now there is only my mind, cautious and wary,
with the sense it is being tested.
Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer;
bounty, balm after violence.
Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields
have been harvested and turned.
Tell me this is the future,
I won’t believe you.
Tell me I’m living,
I won’t believe you.
Snow had fallen. I remember
music from an open window.
Come to me, said the world.
This is not to say
it spoke in exact sentences
but that I perceived beauty in this manner.
Sunrise. A film of moisture
on each living thing. Pools of cold light
formed in the gutters.
at the doorway,
ridiculous as it now seems.
What others found in art,
I found in nature. What others found
in human love, I found in nature.
Very simple. But there was no voice there.
Winter was over. In the thawed dirt,
bits of green were showing.
Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal-
I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty
the healer, the teacher-
death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life.
The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.
This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared.
The songs have changed; the unspeakable
has entered them.
This is the light of autumn, not the light that says
I am reborn.
Not the spring dawn: I strained, I suffered, I was delivered.
This is the present, an allegory of waste.
So much has changed. And still, you are fortunate:
the ideal burns in you like a fever.
Or not like a fever, like a second heart.
The songs have changed, but really they are still quite beautiful.
They have been concentrated in a smaller space, the space of the mind.
They are dark, now, with desolation and anguish.
And yet the notes recur. They hover oddly
in anticipation of silence.
The ear gets used to them.
The eye gets used to disappearances.
You will not be spared, nor will what you lope be spared.
A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind;
it has left in its wake a strange lucidity.
How privileged you are, to be still passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.
This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
Surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something.
It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.
at work, though I am silent.
misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley
lined with trees; we are
companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;
behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms
somehow deserted, abandoned,
as though it were the artist’s
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?
the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception-At the intersection,
ornamental lights of the season.
I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against
this same world:
you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.
The brightness of the day becomes
the brightness of the night;
the fire becomes the mirror.
My friend the earth is bitter; I think
sunlight has failed her.
Bitter or weary, it is hard to say.
Between herself and the sun,
something has ended.
She wants, now, to be left alone;
I think we must give up
turning to her for affirmation.
Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
the brilliance that made all life possible
becomes the cold stars.
Lie still and watch:
they give nothing but ask nothing.
From within the earth’s
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness
my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?
PERSEPHONE THE WANDERER
In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth-this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,
that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
we may call this
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:
did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.
As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne-
I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
“home” to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?
You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.
Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise
the three levee of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.
You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?
White of forgetfulness,
It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says
Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.
She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes
she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.
The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.
You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us
that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.
White of forgetfulness,
white of safety-
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth
asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion-
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read
as an argument between the mother and the lover-
the daughter is just meat.
When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother’s
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.
Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life-
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth-
What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?
Who can say what the world is? The world
is in flux, therefore
unreadable, the winds shifting,
the great plates invisibly shifting and changing-
of blistered rock. On which
the exposed heart constructs
a house, memory: the gardens
manageable, small in scale, the beds
damp at the sea’s edge-
As one takes in
an enemy, through these windows
one takes in
here is the kitchen, here the darkened study.
Meaning: I am master here.
When you fall in love, my sister said,
it’s like being struck by lightning.
She was speaking hopefully,
to draw the attention of the lightning.
I reminded her that she was repeating exactly
our mother’s formula, which she and I
had discussed in childhood, because we both felt
that what we were looking at in the adults
were the effects not of lightning
but of the electric chair.
Why was my mother happy?
She married my father.
“You girls,” my mother said, “should marry
someone like your father.”
That was one remark. Another was,
“There is no one like your father.”
From the pierced clouds, steady lines of silver.
yellow of the witch hazel, veins
of mercury that were the paths of the rivers-
Then the rain again, erasing
footprints in the damp earth.
An implied path, like
a map without a crossroads.
The implication was, it was necessary to abandon
childhood. The word “marry” was a signal.
You could also treat it as aesthetic advice;
the voice of the child was tiresome,
it had no lower register.
The word was a code, mysterious, like the Rosetta stone.
It was also a roadsign, a warning.
You could take a few things with you like a dowry.
You could take the part of you that thought.
“Marry” meant you should keep that part quiet.
A night in summer. Outside,
sounds of a summer storm. Then the sky clearing.
In the window, constellations of summer.
I’m in a bed. This man and I,
we are suspended in the strange calm
sex often induces. Most sex induces.
Longing, what is that? Desire, what is that?
In the window, constellations of summer.
Once, I could name them.
The light of the mind. The cold, exacting
fires of disinterestedness, curiously
blocked by earth, coherent, glittering
in air and water,
signs that said now plant, now, harvest-
I could name them, I had names for them:
two different things.
Fabulous things, stars.
When I was a child, I suffered from insomnia.
Summer nights, my parents permitted me to sit by the lake;
I took the dog for company.
Did I say “suffered”? That was my parents’ way of explaining
tastes that seemed to them
inexplicable: better “suffered” than “preferred to live with the dog.”
Darkness. Silence that annulled mortality.
The tethered boats rising and falling.
When the moon was full, I could sometimes read the girls’ names
painted to the sides of the boats:
Ruth Ann, Sweet Izzy, Peggy My Darling-
They were going nowhere, those girls.
There was nothing to be learned from them.
I spread my jacket in the damp sand,
the dog curled up beside me.
My parents couldn’t see the lift: in my head;
when I wrote it down, they fixed the spelling.
Sounds of the lake. The soothing, inhuman
sounds of water lapping the dock, the dog scuffling somewhere
in the weeds-
The assignment was to fall in love.
The details were up to you.
The second part was
to include in the poem certain words,
words drawn from a specific text
on another subject altogether.
Spring rain, then a night in summer.
A man’s voice, then a woman’s voice.
You grew up, you were struck by lightning.
When you opened your eyes, you were wired forever to your true love.
It only happened once. Then you were taken care of,
your story was finished.
It happened once. Being struck was like being vaccinated;
the rest of your life you were immune,
you were warm and dry.
Unless the shock wasn’t deep enough.
Then you weren’t vaccinated, you were addicted.
The assignment was to fall in love.
The author was female.
The ego had to be called the soul.
The action took place in the body.
Stars represented everything else: dreams, the mind, etc.
The beloved was identified
with the self in a narcissistic projection.
The mind was a subplot. It went nattering on.
Time was experienced
less as narrative than ritual.
What was repeated had weight.
Certain endings were tragic, thus acceptable.
Everything else was failure.
Deceit. Lies. Embellishments we call
There were too many roads, too many versions.
There were too many roads, no one path-
And at the end?
List the implications of “crossroads.”
Answer: a story that will have a moral.
Give a counter-example:
The self ended and the world began.
They were of equal size,
one mirrored the other.
The riddle was: why couldn’t we live in the mind.
The answer was: the barrier of the earth intervened.
The room was quiet.
That is, the room was quiet, but the lovers were breathing.
In the same way, the night was dark.
It was dark, but the stars shone.
The man in bed was one of several men
to whom I gave my heart. The gift of the self,
that is without limit.
Without limit, though it recurs.
The room was quiet. It was an absolute,
like the black night.
A night in summer. Sounds of a summer storm.
The great plates invisibly shifting and changing-
And in the dark room, the lovers sleeping in each other’s arms.
We are, each of us, the one who wakens first,
who stirs first and sees, there in the first dawn,
There was a war between good and evil.
We decided to call the body good.
That made death evil.
It turned the soul
against death completely.
Like a foot soldier wanting
to serve a great warrior, the soul
wanted to side with the body.
It turned against the dark,
against the forms of death
Where does the voice come from
that says suppose the war
is evil, that says
suppose the body did this to us,
made us afraid of love-
Now, if unexpectedly you crave more (like I sometimes do after something surprisingly good like cherry-blossom-flavored-vegan-ice-cream):
The whole thing (hosted on WordPress): Averno