This morning in my email I found this poem from the Paris Review. I loved the tone of it–quiet, haunting–no pretentions or duties.
Achilles After Dying
He was very tired—who cared about glory any longer? Enough was enough.
He had come to know enemies and friends—purported friends:
behind all the admiration and love they hid their self-interest,
their own suspicious dreams, those cunning innocents.
on the little island of Leuce, alone at last, peaceful, no pretensions,
no duties or tight armor, most of all without
the humble hypocrisy of heroism, hour after hour he can taste
the saltiness of evening, the stars, the silence, and that feeling—
mild and endless—of general futility, his only companions the wild goats.
But here too, even after dying,
he was pursued by new admirers—usurpers of his memory, these:
they set up altars and statues in his name, worshipped, left.
Sea-gulls alone stayed with him; now every morning they fly down to the shore,
wet their wings, fly back quickly to wash the floor of his temple
with gentle dance movements. In this way
a poetic idea circulates in the air (maybe his only justification)
and a condescending smile for everyone and everything crosses his lips
as he waits yet again for new pilgrims (and he knows how much he likes that)
with all their noise, their Thermos bottles, their eggs and phonographs,
as he now waits for Helen—yes, that same Helen for whose
fleshly and dreamy beauty
so many Achaeans and Trojans (he among them) were destroyed.
Yannis Ritsos—Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley
I’ve been rereading Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, my favorite of her books. As it opens, lovely, graceful, and without money of her own, Lily Barth needs to find a husband. She’s already 29, old for the job. But it’s hard for her. She attaches herself to Percy Gryce, a rich, eligible bachelor and draws him out on his favorite books, but he is so boring that just thinking about him later brings his droning voice clearly to mind, and she imagines the work of getting him to propose, summed up in this sentence.
“She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce–the mere thought seemed to raise an echo of his droning voice–but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honor of boring her for life.”
Funny, but ultimately tragic for Lily, who can never quite bring herself to this wholly mercenary level. A wonderful read to finish up the summer.
I know I’ve posted something from her book, Post-Colonial Love Poem, but I came across this one recently and love the sensuality in contrast to the landscape and car details.
If I Should Come Upon Your House Lonely in the West Texas Desert
I will swing my lasso of headlights
across your front porch,
let it drop like a rope of knotted light
at your feet.
While I put the car in park,
you will tie and tighten the loop
of light around your waist —
and I will be there with the other end
wrapped three times
around my hips horned with loneliness.
Reel me in across the glow-throbbing sea
of greenthread, bluestem prickly poppy,
the white inflorescence of yucca bells,
up the dust-lit stairs into your arms.
If you say to me, This is not your new house
but I am your new home,
I will enter the door of your throat,
hang my last lariat in the hallway,
build my altar of best books on your bedside table,
turn the lamp on and off, on and off, on and off.
I will lie down in you.
Eat my meals at the red table of your heart.
Each steaming bowl will be, Just right.
I will eat it all up,
break all your chairs to pieces.
If I try running off into the deep-purpling scrub brush,
you will remind me,
There is nowhere to go if you are already here,
and pat your hand on your lap lighted
by the topazion lux of the moon through the window,
say, Here, Love, sit here — when I do,
I will say, And here I still am.
Until then, Where are you? What is your address?
I am hurting. I am riding the night
on a full tank of gas and my headlights
are reaching out for something.
originally appeared in The New York Times Magazine (April 1, 2021).
At the Minnesota Northwoods Writers’ Conference, Keetje Kuipers gave a knock-out reading. I bought her most recent book, All its Charms, and have been slowly reading through it. She has the amazing ability to make her poetry seem like easy, natural speech, while at the same time packing so much into each word. I especially love the tenderness in her work. Here’s a sample:
Landscape with Ocean and Nearly Dead Dog
Should I lay him on the slab at the vet’s? Let
somebody else do the work? Or back at home
in the yard, my coward’s hand on the syringe,
the last of the bird song in our ears? Now I find
one pink shell, one gray, watch my daughter
knee-deep in the waves as a child swims toward her
chewing flecks of styrofoam. It’s chicken, says the girl,
Eat it. And the ibis eyeing them, god-only-knows
in its gullet. What makes me want to take these fractures
home? The shale of blue plastic covered in stony
warts, starfish arm severed in the night, feelers
still tickling the air. I hold the dog’s head
in my lap, let him smell on my salted hands
every little thing we’re willing to give up.