Birthday

Last night, I stopped by Powerbooks and browsed through a couple of Louise Glück’s works. Fortuitously, today I found out that yesterday was her birthday. Here are the two poems from Seven Ages that caught my attention:

Birthday

Amazingly, I can look back
fifty years. And there, at the end of the gaze,
a human being already entirely recognizable,
the hands clutched in the lap, the eyes
staring into the future with the combined
terror and hopelessness of a soul expecting annihilation.

Entirely familiar, though still, of course, very young.
Staring blindly ahead, the expression of someone staring into utter
darkness.
And thinking—which meant, I remember, the attempts of the mind
to prevent change.

Familiar, recognizable, but much more deeply alone, more despondent.
She does not, in her view, meet the definition
of child, a person with everything to look forward to.

This is how the others look; this is, therefore, what they are.
Constantly making friends
with the camera, many of them actually
smiling with real conviction—

I remember that age. Riddled with self-doubt, self-loathing,
and at the same time suffused
with contempt for the communal, the ordinary; forever
consigned to solitude, the bleak solace of perception, to a future
completely dominated by the tragic, with no use for the immense will
but to fend it off—

That is the problem of silence:
one cannot test one’s ideas.
Because they are not ideas, they are the truth.

All the defenses, the spiritual rigidity, the insistent
unmasking of the ordinary to reveal the tragic,
were actually innocence of the world.

Meaning the partial, the shifting, the mutable—
all that the absolute excludes. I sat in the dark, in the living room.
The birthday was over. I was thinking, naturally, about time.
I remember how, in almost the same instant,
my heart would leap up exultant and collapse
in desolate anguish. The leaping up—the half I didn’t count—
that was happiness; that is what the word meant.


From A Journal

I had a lover once, I had a lover twice, easily three times I loved. And in between my heart reconstructed itself perfectly like a worm. And my dreams also reconstructed themselves.

After a time, I realized I was living a completely idiotic life. Idiotic, wasted. And sometime later, you and I began to correspond, inventing an entirely new form.

Deep intimacy over great distance! Keats to Fanny Brawne, Dante to Beatrice.

One cannot invent a new form in an old character. The letters I sent remained immaculately ironic, aloof yet forthright. Meanwhile, I was writing different letters in my head, some of which became poems.

So much genuine feeling! So many fierce declarations of passionate longing!

I loved once, I loved twice, and suddenly the form collapsed: I was unable to sustain ignorance.

How sad to have lost you, to have lost any chance of actually knowing you or remembering you over time as a real person, as someone I could have grown deeply attached to, maybe the brother I never had.

And how sad to think of dying before finding out anything. And to realize how ignorant we all are most of the time, seeing-things only from the one vantage, like a sniper.

And there were so many things I never got to tell you about myself, things which might have swayed you. And the photo I never sent, taken the night I looked almost splendid.

I wanted you to fall in love. But the arrow kept hitting the mirror and coming back. And the letters kept dividing themselves with neither half totally true.

And sadly, you never figured out any of this, though you always wrote back so promptly, always the same elusive letter.

I loved once, I loved twice, and even though in our case things never got off the ground it was a good thing to have tried. And I still have the letters of course. Sometimes I will take a few years’ worth to reread in the garden, with a glass of iced tea.

And I feel, sometimes, part of something very great, wholly profound and sweeping.

I loved once, I loved twice, easily three times I loved.

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