The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Monday

Mock Orange
By Louise Gluck

It is not the moon, I tell you.
It is these flowers
lighting the yard.

I hate them.
I hate them as I hate sex,
the man's mouth
sealing my mouth, the man's
paralyzing body--

and the cry that always escapes,
the low, humiliating
premise of union--

In my mind tonight
I hear the question and pursuing answer
fused in one sound
that mounts and mounts and then
is split into the old selves,
the tired antagonisms. Do you see?
We were made fools of.

And the scent of mock orange
drifts through the window.

How can I rest?
How can I be content
when there is still
that odor in the world?


"As a graduate student in the late 1970s, I watched the tiny, graceful and expensively dressed Louise Gluck ascend to a podium to read Mock Orange,' about the disappointments of marriage. The poem wrung shocked gasps from the audience when the speaker claimed to hate the syrupy aroma of mock orange flowers 'as I hate sex,'" recalled Mary Karr in Sunday's Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "How small this poem is, for Gluck never wastes the reader's time...the orange blossom is the wedding flower, so mock orange is the faux version of real union. The poem opens when the wife -- kept awake by that sickly sweet odor -- tells her husband that it's not the moon troubling her rest but the fake shine of those cloying blossoms. Only as the poem goes on do we realize the conversation takes place during post-coital tristesse -- the natural sadness after sex that comes from the end of union. It's not sex the speaker despises; it's the fact that physical intimacy can devolve into private lust, and a couple can wind up 'split into the old selves,/the tired antagonisms.'"

We are home from Philadelphia with our poor neglected cats, who appear to have survived our absence. This morning after a big buffet breakfast in the Marriott, we went to the Independence Seaport Museum, which in addition to exhibits on immigration, shipbuilding and underwater archaeology (we'd visited before without the children and I knew they would love all the hands-on exhibits) offers free admission to the submarine Becuna and the USS Olympia -- the former a claustrophobic World War II submarine that once held a crew of 80, the latter the beautifully preserved oldest steel warship still afloat anywhere in the world. From there we went to Penn's Museum of Archaeology, which I used to visit all the time as a student, with its fabulous collection of ancient Canaanite, Mesopotamian, Hebrew, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Native American artifacts. My parents met up with friends who live in Philadelphia in the cafe while we took younger son to the Phoenecian artifacts because he taught himself to read the letters in World Studies class.

A sphinx and temple ruins from the ancient city of Memphis dating to about 1250 BCE, transported to the University of Pennsylvania and displayed in its museum.

This vase is even older, from 2700 BCE, and has the name of King Khasekhem inscribed in hieroglyphics along with an account of an attack by a vulture goddess.

This crystal sphere, believed to be the second largest in the world, came from the Imperial Palace in Peking after arriving there from Burma in the 1600s. The crystal was shaped in Burma over many years in a cylindrical chamber of emery, garnet powder and water.

From the Independence Seaport Museum, a British pistol circa 1798 retrieved from the wreck of the HMS Debraak, which capsized off Cape Henlopen after taking a wealthy Spanish prize. Treasure hunters searched for the ship for years.

Philadelphia merchant Israel Cope ordered the tea set on the left with Warwick Castle decorating the pot and cup. The city had a historic maritime connection with China due to the porcelain trade.

Here aboard the submarine Becuna is a crewman's bed folded out above a partially dismantled torpedo. During the war, the crew slept above the torpedos in the fore and aft rooms.

And here's Olympia with the Becuna low in the water at right and the ship-turned-restaurant Moshulu, the largest four-masted sailing ship in the world still afloat.

On the way home we stopped at the Delaware Museum of Art, under the mistaken impression that it was open till 5 when in fact it was only open till 4, though at least it was free so we went in for what time we had -- slightly more than half an hour, which was enough time to race through the Pre-Raphaelites and Howard Pyle exhibits. After much debate on the drive back about where to stop for dinner, we ended up at the deli in the shopping center near our house. Then the kids got their last few minutes of vacation Wii and we all watched John Adams, where we got the unexpected surprise of Tom Hollander as George III; I had no idea he was in this mini-series, the IMDb doesn't list him! The kids and I both recognized him immediately, but only a couple of news articles mention him playing the role. I loved John and Abigail's awkward reunion, John's adult kids refusing to listen to him and the very charming Thomas Jefferson trying to recover from personal losses by enjoying Paris. And I loved loved loved Washington taking the oath of office.

We seem to have missed the opening of the Nationals' new stadium, the opening of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the four top seeds getting into the NCAA finals. Hopefully that means we also missed the traffic associated with those events!

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