by Louise Glück
(just a few sections from the middle)
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 adults
were the effects not of lightning
but of the electric chair.
Why was my mother happy?
She married my father.
“You girls,” my mother said, “should marry
someone like your father.”
That was one remark. Another was,
“There is no one like your father.”
From the pierced clouds, steady lines of silver.
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.
And implied path, like
a map without a crossroads.
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.
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 on 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 scuffling somewhere
in the weeds—
Averno is incredible. Do I think the Pulitzer was robbed? No. Trethewey deserved that. But it is interesting to note that no poet who has become US Poet Laureate has ever won a Pulitzer after the term except Mark Strand, who did not have a Pulitzer before serving as Laureate. I think this is good -- the Pulitzer committee should not shower great authors in Pulitzer after Pulitzer. I like that they try to expose new and regional voices to a greater audience. That might just be me though.
Averno is Glück’s best book in years. Stunningly powerful and experimental for her. She plays with form -- ending section eleven with a dash like Brenda Hillman is fond to do -- and she plays with putting herself increasingly into the poems. I love this book. Go buy it. Or borrow it from me.