Prism :: Louise Glück

1.
Who can say what the world is? The world
is in flux, therefore
unreadable, the winds shifting,
the great plates invisibly shifting and changing–

2.
Dirt. Fragments
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–

3.
As one takes in
an enemy, through these windows
one takes in
the world:

here is the kitchen, here is the darkened study.

Meaning: I am master here.

4.
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.

5.
Riddle:
Why was my mother happy?

Answer:
She married my father.

6.
“You girls,” my mother said, “should marry
someone like your father.”

That was one remark. Another was,
“There is no one like your father.”

7.
From the pierced clouds, steady lines of silver.

Unlikely
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.

8.
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.

9.
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.

10.
Abstracted
shapes, patterns.
The light of the mind. The cold, exacting
fires of disinterestedness, curiously

blocked by earth, coherent, glittering
in air and water,

the elaborate
signs that said now plant, now harvest–

I could name them, I had names for them:
two different things.

11.
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 life 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 scuffing somewhere
in the weeds–

12.
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.

13.
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 by lightning 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.

14.
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 the 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.

15.
Deceit. Lies. Embellishments we call
hypotheses–

There were too many roads, to many versions.
There were too many roads, not one path–

And at the end?

16.
List the implications of “crossroads.”

Answer: a story that will have a moral.

Give a counter-example:

17.
The self ended and the world began.
They were of equal size,
commensurate,
one mirrored the other.

18.
The riddle was: why couldn’t we live in the mind.

The answer was: the barrier of the earth intervened.

19.
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.

20.
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,
the stranger.

[From Averno]

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