The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

A Myth of Innocence
By Louise Glück

One summer she goes into the field as usual
stopping for a bit at the pool where she often
looks at herself, to see
if she detects any changes. She sees
the same person, the horrible mantle
of daughterliness still clinging to her.

The sun seems, in the water, very close.
That's my uncle spying again, she thinks--
everything in nature is in some way her relative.
I am never alone, she thinks,
turning the thought into a prayer.
Then death appears, like the answer to a prayer.

No one understands anymore
how beautiful he was. But Persephone remembers.
Also that he embraced her, right there,
with her uncle watching. She remembers
sunlight flashing on his bare arms.

This is the last moment she remembers clearly.
Then the dark god bore her away.

She also remembers, less clearly,
the chilling insight that from this moment
she couldn't live without him again.

The girl who disappears from the pool
will never return. A woman will return,
looking for the girl she was.

She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.
Then she says, I was not abducted.
Then she says, I offered myself, I wanted
to escape my body
. Even, sometimes,
I willed this. But ignorance

cannot will knowledge. Ignorance
wills something imagined, which it believes exists.

All the different nouns--
she says them in rotation.
Death, husband, god, stranger.
Everything sounds so simple, so conversational.
I must have been, she thinks, a simple girl.

She can't remember herself as that person
but she keeps thinking the pool will remember
and explain to her the meaning of her prayer
so she can understand
whether it was answered or not.


"A really good allusion works even if you can't identify it. Like myths, allusions change with each repetition," writes Robert Pinsky in Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "If a great prizefighter's nickname sounds a little classical or biblical, alluding to him that way becomes part of his meaning. The sound and aroma of the syllables affects the myth. Without some skill at guessing, who could navigate through any ordinary day with its words and images?"

Of the poem above, from Glück's book Averno, Pinsky adds, "The pleasure is partly in the playful distance between writer and character...the alternate things the character says, the 'different nouns' she tries, the trickiness of a word such as 'simple': These illustrate the shimmery nature of meaning, which inspires the devisings of myth, as well as the pranks of allusion."

It's weird to me that he finds anything playful about this poem, which creeps me out greatly. Here is a girl who is so repressed at home that she doesn't even know she's repressed, her mother and uncle never giving her a moment's peace, so that when she is kidnapped and raped she is able to describe it to herself as liberation. "Ignorance wills something imagined, which it believes exists" is one of the saddest lines I have ever read. And she doesn't know whether it exists in the end or not, yet she is hopeful that what she got might somehow have been what she wanted. I've never felt sorrier for Persephone and I've always found her a pretty miserable character to begin with, the pawn in a power play between Demeter and Hades where Zeus never asks her what she wants.

After younger son's soccer game around lunchtime (they were short several players and lost 9-1; older son was volunteering in my mother's class at Hebrew school), we went out to get hand rakes at Plow & Hearth and a gift card for the Bar Mitzvah we were attending in the evening; we also stopped in the newly enlarged Congressional Aquarium store, which is staffed by very knowledgeable people and has an amazing collection of fish, amphibians and reptiles for sale and is nearly as much fun to visit as most educational aquariums (anyone who has kids and lives near a halfway decent aquarium store, I highly recommend this as a rainy day activity).

The Havdalah service for the Bar Mitzvah started at 5:30 and we got downtown early to get parking places because there are always two children together, like my son and the girl who was B'Nai Mitzvah with him, and the other boy is from a really wealthy family that's very involved in the congregation and we had been warned they were expecting a big crowd (which they had, all spectacularly dressed and talking through the service). The family whose ceremony we were attending had more people than ours but not a huge number; they had lots of out-of-town relatives and the boy had invited girls, something in which our son expressed a distinct lack of interest. *g* There was a very bizarre moment where one of the fathers went to take the Torah out of the ark, which has seven Torahs, each robed in a different cover decorated to reflect the seven days of creation, and somehow he managed to bump the Torahs on either side so that they all crashed into each other and very nearly fell out. The rabbi, cantor and all the adults on the bimah were frantically trying to keep them from falling over, and the rabbi joked that one was supposed to fast fifty days for dropping a Torah so if they had all gone, that would be a year!

Otherwise it was a very nice service (despite the people talking incessantly behind us about everything from what other people were wearing to the latest sports news) and the party was lots of was at an Italian restaurant near the synagogue and there was so much food, hot appetizers and two salads and four main courses all served family-style so I ate a little of everything and a massive dessert table! Plus a deejay much like the one we had, with prizes for the kids and a respectable amount of "Celebration", "Y.M.C.A.", Michael Jackson medley, etc. It is very funny to me how the music that was new when I was a Bat Mitzvah in late 1979 has remained the music still played at such celebrations! They played almost no recent dance music, though they did play "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and other songs I thought were sort of weird choices for a joyous event...maybe I am just old and out of it!

Crowd of kids posing for the official photographer -- I just grabbed a shot with my tiny little camera that couldn't compensate very well for the dark room.

All the kids were given tie-dye shirts, which is the reason for the preponderance of tie-dye in the photo above.

The yarmukles had rainbow-colored Stars of David on them.

It was really nice to be at a party in a room where I was responsible for nothing beyond making sure my kids remembered their souvenirs. *g*

Sunday vertigo66 and I am going to a Mabon celebration. Ahh, fall!

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