THE RED POPPY
The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.
‘The Red Poppy’ from THE WILD IRIS by Louise Glück
Copyright © 1992, Louise Glück. All rights reserved.
There was an apple tree in the yard—
this would have been
forty years ago—behind,
only meadow. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts—
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.
‘Nostos’ from MEADOWLANDS by Louise Glück
Copyright © 1996, Louise Glück. All rights reserved.
There is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you’ve been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.
You’ve stopped being here in the world.
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.
You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.
Then you’re in the world again.
At night, on a cold hill,
taking the telescope apart.
You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.
You see again how far away
each thing is from every other thing.
‘Telescope’ from AVERNO by Louise Glück
Copyright © 2006, Louise Glück. All rights reserved.
My body, now that we will not be traveling together much longer
I begin to feel a new tenderness toward you, very raw and unfamiliar,
like what I remember of love when I was young—
love that was so often foolish in its objectives
but never in its choices, its intensities.
Too much demanded in advance, too much that could not be promised—
My soul has been so fearful, so violent:
forgive its brutality.
As though it were that soul, my hand moves over you cautiously,
not wishing to give offense
but eager, finally, to achieve expression as substance:
it is not the earth I will miss,
it is you I will miss.
‘Crossroads’ from A VILLAGE LIFE by Louise Glück
Copyright © 2009, Louise Glück. All rights reserved.
You’re stepping on your father, my mother said,
and indeed I was standing exactly in the center
of a bed of grass, mown so neatly it could have been
my father’s grave, although there was no stone saying so.
You’re stepping on your father, she repeated,
louder this time, which began to be strange to me,
since she was dead herself; even the doctor had admitted it.
I moved slightly to the side, to where
my father ended and my mother began.
The cemetery was silent. Wind blew through the trees;
I could hear, very faintly, sounds of weeping several rows away,
and beyond that, a dog wailing.
At length these sounds abated. It crossed my mind
I had no memory of being driven here,
to what now seemed a cemetery, though it could have been
a cemetery in my mind only; perhaps it was a park, or if not a park,
a garden or bower, perfumed, I now realized, with the scent of roses—
douceur de vivre filling the air, the sweetness of living,
as the saying goes. At some point,
it occurred to me I was alone.
Where had the others gone,
my cousins and sister, Caitlin and Abigail?
By now the light was fading. Where was the car
waiting to take us home?
I then began seeking for some alternative. I felt
an impatience growing in me, approaching, I would say, anxiety.
Finally, in the distance, I made out a small train,
stopped, it seemed, behind some foliage, the conductor
lingering against a doorframe, smoking a cigarette.
Do not forget me, I cried, running now
over many plots, many mothers and fathers—
Do not forget me, I cried, when at last I reached him.
Madam, he said, pointing to the tracks,
surely you realize this is the end, the tracks do not go farther.
His words were harsh, and yet his eyes were kind;
this encouraged me to press my case harder.
But they go back, I said, and I remarked
their sturdiness, as though they had many such returns ahead of them.
You know, he said, our work is difficult: we confront
much sorrow and disappointment.
He gazed at me with increasing frankness.
I was like you once, he added, in love with turbulence.
Now I spoke as to an old friend:
What of you, I said, since he was free to leave,
have you no wish to go home,
to see the city again?
This is my home, he said.
The city—the city is where I disappear.
‘Aboriginal Landscape’ from FAITHFUL AND VIRTUOUS NIGHT by Louise Glück
Copyright © 2014, Louise Glück. All rights reserved.
A FORESHORTENED JOURNEY
I found the stairs somewhat more difficult than I had expected and so I sat down, so to speak, in the middle of the journey. Because there was a large window opposite the railing, I was able to entertain myself with the little dramas and comedies of the street outside, though no one I knew passed by, no one, certainly, who could have assisted me. Nor were the stairs themselves in use, as far as I could see. You must get up, my lad, I told myself. Since this seemed suddenly impossible, I did the next best thing: I prepared to sleep, my head and arms on the stair above, my body crouched below. Sometime after this, a little girl appeared at the top of the staircase, holding the hand of an elderly woman. Grandmother, cried the little girl, there is a dead man on the staircase! We must let him sleep, said the grandmother. We must walk quietly by. He is at that point in life at which neither returning to the beginning nor advancing to the end seems bearable; therefore, he has decided to stop, here, in the midst of things, though this makes him an obstacle to others, such as ourselves. But we must not give up hope; in my own life, she continued, there was such a time, though that was long ago. And here, she let her granddaughter walk in front of her so they could pass me without disturbing me.
I would have liked to hear the whole of her story, since she seemed, as she passed by, a vigorous woman, ready to take pleasure in life, and at the same time forthright, without illusions. But soon their voices faded into whispers, or they were far away. Will we see him when we return, the child murmured. He will be long gone by then, said her grandmother, he will have finished climbing up or down, as the case may be. Then I will say goodbye now, said the little girl. And she knelt below me, chanting a prayer I recognized as the Hebrew prayer for the dead. Sir, she whispered, my grandmother tells me you are not dead, but I thought perhaps this would soothe you in your terrors, and I will not be here to sing it at the right time.
When you hear this again, she said, perhaps the words will be less intimidating, if you remember how you first heard them, in the voice of a little girl.
‘A Foreshortened Journey’ from FAITHFUL AND VIRTUOUS NIGHT by Louise Glück
Copyright © 2014, Louise Glück. All rights reserved.
Leo Cruz makes the most beautiful white bowls;
I think I must get some to you
but how is the question
in these times
He is teaching me
the names of the desert grasses;
I have a book
since to see the grasses is impossible
Leo thinks the things man makes
are more beautiful
than what exists in nature
and I say no.
And Leo says
wait and see.
We make plans
to walk the trails together.
When, I ask him,
when? Never again:
that is what we do not say.
He is teaching me
to live in imagination:
a cold wind
blows as I cross the desert;
I can see his house in the distance;
smoke is coming from the chimney
That is the kiln, I think;
only Leo makes porcelain in the desert
Ah, he says, you are dreaming again
And I say then I’m glad I dream
the fire is still alive
‘Song’ from WINTER RECIPES FROM THE COLLECTIVE by Louise Glück
Copyright © 2021, Louise Glück. All rights reserved.
Nobel Prizes and laureates
See them all presented here.