Averno :: Louise Glück


You die when your spirit dies.
Otherwise, you live.
You may not do a good job of it, but you go on —
something you have no choice about.

When I tell this to my children
they pay no attention.
The old people, they think —
this is what they always do:
talk about things no one can see
to cover up all the brain cells they’re losing.
They wink at each other;
listen to the old one, talking about the spirit
because he can’t remember anymore the word for chair.

It is terrible to be alone.
I don’t mean to live alone —
to be alone, where no one hears you.

I remember the word for chair.
I want to say — I’m just not interested anymore.

I wake up thinking
you have to prepare.
Soon the spirit will give up —
all the chairs in the world won’t help you.

I know what they say when I’m out of the room.
Should I be seeing someone, should I be taking
one of the new drugs for depression.
I can hear them, in whispers, planning how to divide the cost.

And I want to scream out
you’re all of you living in a dream.

Bad enough, they think, to watch me fall apart.
Bad enough without this lecturing they get these days
as though I had any right to this new information.

Well, they have the same right.

They’re living in a dream, and I’m preparing
to be a ghost. I want to shout out

the mist has cleared
It’s like some new life:
you have no stake in the outcome;
you know the outcome.

Think of it: sixty years sitting in chairs. And now the mortal spirit
seeking so openly, so fearlessly —

To raise the veil.
To see what you’re saying goodbye to.

I didn’t go back for a long time.
When I saw the field again, autumn was finished.
Here, it finishes almost before it starts —
the old people don’t even own summer clothing.

The field was covered with snow, immaculate.
There wasn’t a sign of what happened here.
You didn’t know whether the farmer
had replanted or not.
Maybe he gave up and moved away.

The police didn’t catch the girl.
After awhile they said she moved to some other country,
one where  they don’t have fields.

A disaster like this
leaves no mark on the earth.
And people like that — they think it gives them
a fresh start.

I stood a long time, staring at nothing.
After a bit, I noticed how dark it was, how cold.

A long time — I have no idea how long.
Once the earth decides to have no memory
time seems in a way meaningless.

But not to my children. They’re after me
to make a will; they’re worried the government
will take everything.

They should come with me sometime
to look at this field under the cover of snow.
The whole thing is written out there.

Nothing: I have nothing to give them.

That’s the first.
The second is: I don’t want to be burned.

On one side, the soul wanders.
On the other, human beings living in fear.
In between, the pit of disappearance.

Some young girls ask me
if they’ll be safe near Averno —
they’re cold, they want to go south a little while.
And one says, like a joke, but not too far south —

I say, as safe as anywhere,
which makes them happy.
What it means is nothing is safe.

You get on a train, you disappear.
You write your name on the window, you disappear.

There are places like this everywhere,
places you enter as a young girl
from which you never return.

Like the field, the one that burned.
Afterward, the girl was gone.
Maybe she didn’t exist,
we have no proof either way.

All we know is:
the field burned.
But we saw that.

So we have to believe in the girl,
in what she did. Otherwise
it’s just forces we don’t understand
ruling the earth.

The girls are happy, thinking of their vacation.
Don’t take a train, I say.

They write their names in mist on a train window.
I want to say, you’re good girls,
trying to leave your names behind.

We spent the whole day
sailing the archipelago,
the tiny islands that were
part of the penisula

until they’d broken off
into the fragments you see now
floating in the northern sea water.

They seemed safe to me,
I think because no one can live there.

Later we sat in the kitchen
watching the evening start and then the snow.
First one, then the other.

We grew silent, hypnotized by the snow
as though a kind of tubulence
that had been hidden before
was becoming visible,

something within the night
exposed now —

In our silence, we were asking
those questions friends who trust each other
ask out of great fatigue,
each one hoping the other knows more

and when this isn’t so, hoping
their shared impressions will amount to insight.

Is there any benefit in forcing upon oneself
the realization that one must die?
Is it possible to miss the opportunity of one’s life?

Questions like that.

The snow was heavy. The black night
transformed into busy white air.

Something we hadn’t seen revealed.
Only the meaning wasn’t revealed.

After the first winter, the field began to grow again.
But there were no more orderly furrows.
The smell of the wheat persisted, a kind of random aroma
intermixed with various weeds, for which
no human use has been as yet devised.

It was puzzling —  no one knew
where the farmer had gone.
Some people thought he died.
Someone said he had a daughter in New Zealand,
that he went there to raise
grandchildren instead of wheat.

Nature, it turns out, isn’t like us;
it doesn’t have a warehouse of memory.
The field doesn’t become afraid of matches,
of young girls. It doesn’t remember
furrows either. It gets killed off, it gets burned,
and a year later it’s alive again
as though nothing unusual has occured.

The farmer stares out the window.
Maybe in New Zealand, maybe somewhere else.
And he thinks: my life is over.
His life expressed  itself in that field;
he doesn’t believe anymore in making anything
out of earth. The earth, he thinks,
has overpowered me.

He remembers the day the field burned,
not, he thinks, by accident.
Something deep within him said: I can live with this,
I can fight it after awhile

The terrible moment was the spring after his work was erased,
when he understood that the earth
didn’t know how to mourn, that it would change instead.
And then go on existing without him.

[From Averno]

2 thoughts on “Averno :: Louise Glück

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