The Poetry of Louise Gluck
One of my favorite poets in the world is Louise Gluck. I like how she can’t quite be tagged. The Poetry Foundation says her work can’t really be found “confessional” or “intellectual”; she’s a VOICE, strong and honest and beautiful. Here are some of my favorites.
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.
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 Untrustworthy Speaker
Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.
I don’t see anying objectively.
I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.
When I speak passionately,
that’s when I’m least to be trusted.
It’s very sad, really: all my life I’ve been praised
for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight–
in the end they’re wasted–
I never see myself.
Standing on the front steps. Holding my sisters hand.
That’s why I can’t account
for the bruises on her arm where the sleeve ends…
In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.
People like me, who seem selfless.
We’re the cripples, the liars:
We’re the ones who should be factored out
in the interest of the truth.
When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.
A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.
Undernearth, a little gray house. The azaleas
red and bright pink.
If you want the truth, you have to close yourself
to the older sister, block her out:
when a living thing is hurt like that
in its deepest workings,
all function is altered.
That’s why I’m not to be trusted.
Because a wound to the heart
is also a wound to the mind.
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
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.
The Silver Lily
The nights have grown cool again, like the nights
of early spring, and quiet again. Will
speech disturb you? We’re
alone now, we have no reason for silence.
Can you see, over the garden–the full moon rises.
I won’t see the next full moon.
In spring, when the moon rose, it meant
time was endless. Snowdrops
opened and closed, the clustered
seeds of the maples fell in pale drifts.
White over white, the moon rose over the birch tree.
And in the crook, where the tree divides,
leaves of the first daffodils, in moonlight
We have come too far together toward the end now
to fear the end. These nights, I am no longer
I know what the end means. And you, who’ve been
with a man–
After the first cries,
doesn’t joy, like fear, make no sound?
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.
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.
staring straight ahead
into the world my father saw.
I was learning
to absorb its emptiness,
the heavy snow
not falling, whirling around us.
Mother and Child
We’re all dreamers; we don’t know who we are.
Some machine made us; machine of the world, the constricting family.
Then back to the world, polished by soft whips.
We dream; we don’t remember.
Machine of the family: dark fur, forests of the mother’s body.
Machine of the mother: white city inside her.
And before that: earth and water.
Moss between rocks, pieces of leaves and grass.
And before, cells in a great darkness.
And before that, the veiled world.
This is why you were born: to silence me.
Cells of my mother and father, it is your turn
to be pivotal, to be the masterpiece.
I improvised; I never remembered.
Now it’s your turn to be driven;
you’re the one who demands to know:
Why do I suffer? Why am I ignorant?
Cells in a great darkness. Some machine made us;
it is your turn to address it, to go back asking
what am I for? What am I for?
The Empty Glass
I asked for much; I received much.
I asked for much; I received little, I received
next to nothing.
And between? A few umbrellas opened indoors.
A pair of shoes by mistake on the kitchen table.
O wrong, wrong–it was my nature. I was
hard-hearted, remote. I was
selfish, rigid to the point of tyranny.
B ut I was always that person, even in early childhood.
Small, dark-haired, dreaded by the other children.
I never changed. Inside the glass, the abstract
tide of fortune turned
from hight to low overnight.
Was it the sea? Responding, maybe,
to celestial force? To be safe,
I prayed. I tried to be a better person.
Soon it seemed to me that what began as terror
and matured into moral narcissism
might have become in fact
actual human growth. Maybe
this is what my friends meant, taking my hand,
telling me they understood
the abuse, the incredible shit I accepted,
implying (so I once thought) I was a little sick
to give so much for so little.
Whereas they meant I was good I(clasping my hand intensely)–
a good friend and person, not a creature of pathos.
I was not pathetic! I was writ large,
like a great queen or saint.
Well, it all makes for interesting conjecture.
And it occurs to me that what is crucial is to believe
in effort, to believe some good will come of simply trying,
a good completely untainted by the corrupt initiating impulse
to persuade or seduce–
What are we without this?
Whirling in the dark universe,
alone, afraid, unable to influence fate–
What do we have really?
Sad tricks with ladders and shoes,
tricks with salt, impurely motivated recurring
attempts to build character.
What do we have to appease the great forces?
And I think in the end this was the question
that destroyed Agamemnon, there on the beach,
the Greek ships at the ready, the sea
invisible beyond the serene harbor, the future
lethal, unstable: he was a fool, thinking
it could be controlled. He should have said
I have nothing, I am at your mercy.
Gretel in Darkness
This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch’s cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar. God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas…
Now, far from women’s arms
and memory of women, in our father’s hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from his house, and it is years.
No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spired of that gleaming kiln–
Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.