The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Friday

At the River
By Louise Gluck

One night that summer my mother decided it was time to tell me about
what she referred to as pleasure, though you could see she felt
some sort of unease about this ceremony, which she tried to cover up
by first taking my hand, as though somebody in the family had just died—
she went on holding my hand as she made her speech
which was more like a speech about mechanical engineering
than a conversation about pleasure. In her other hand
she had a book from which, apparently, she'd taken the main facts.
She did the same thing with the others, my two brothers and sister,
and the book was always the same book, dark blue,
though we each got our own copy.

There was a line drawing on the cover
showing a man and woman holding hands
but standing fairly far apart, like people on two sides of a dirt road.

Obviously, she and my father did not have a language for what they did
which, from what I could judge, wasn't pleasure.
At the same time, whatever holds human beings together
could hardly resemble those cool black-and-white diagrams, which suggested,
among other things, that you could only achieve pleasure
with a person of the opposite sex,
so you didn't get two sockets, say, and no plug.

School wasn't in session.
I went back to my room and shut the door
and my mother went into the kitchen
where my father was pouring glasses of wine for himself and his invisible guest
who—surprise—doesn't appear.
No, it's just my father and his friend the Holy Ghost
partying the night away until the bottle runs out,
after which my father continues sitting at the table
with an open book in front of him.

Tactfully, so as not to embarrass the Spirit,
my father handled all the glasses,
first his own, then the other, back and forth like every other night.

By then, I was out of the house.
It was summer; my friends used to meet at the river.
The whole thing seemed a grave embarrassment
although the truth was that, except for the boys, maybe we didn't understand mechanics.

The boys had the key right in front of them, in their hands if they wanted,
and many of them said they'd already used it,
though once one boy said this, the others said it too,
and of course people had older brothers and sisters.

We sat at the edge of the river discussing parents in general
and sex in particular. And a lot of information got shared,
and of course the subject was unfailingly interesting.
I showed people my book, Ideal Marriage—we all had a good laugh over it.
One night a boy brought a bottle of wine and we passed it around for a while.

More and more that summer we understood
that something was going to happen to us
that would change us.
And the group, all of us who used to meet this way,
the group would shatter, like a shell that falls away
so the bird can emerge.
Only of course it would be two birds emerging, pairs of birds.

We sat in the reeds at the edge of the river
throwing small stones. When the stones hit,
you could see the stars multiply for a second, little explosions of light
flashing and going out. There was a boy I was beginning to like,
not to speak to but to watch.
I liked to sit behind him to study the back of his neck.

And after a while we'd all get up together and walk back through the dark
to the village. Above the field, the sky was clear,
stars everywhere, like in the river, though these were the real stars,
even the dead ones were real.

But the ones in the river—
they were like having some idea that explodes suddenly into a thousand ideas,
not real, maybe, but somehow more lifelike.

When I got home, my mother was asleep, my father was still at the table,
reading his book. And I said, Did your friend go away?
And he looked at me intently for a while,
then he said, Your mother and I used to drink a glass of wine together
after dinner.


I have no significant news from Thursday -- got packages ready to go to the post office tomorrow, bought my SPP penguin a movie set, artist studio, scary cave and school, exchanged new free gifts with Adam, discovered that if we sent penguins today then we can't send sheep till tomorrow, sent kids off to the pool after lunch, did some reading, did some laundry, that sort of stuff. Hopefully tomorrow I will be more interesting -- son has an orthodontist appointment, though, so don't count on it.

The pygmy hippo at the National Zoo will be leaving soon, so we made sure to visit last weekend.

Hippos are apparently happiest living in large groups, and the zoo doesn't have the space for a herd of pygmy hippos.

Sadly, this is true of the large Nile hippo as well, so the National Zoo's will be leaving to live with other hippos.

The expansion of the elephant trail has meant there isn't room for more hippos, so instead the zoo will have no hippos and more elephants.

We went to the keeper talk about red pandas outside the Small Mammal House (there are also red pandas on the Asia Trail).

It was a warm day, so the red panda wasn't precisely in the mood for performing...

...but he played with the door of his carrier and jumped around the rocks.

The red panda is originally from the Himalayas and is very endangered, but is scarcely related to the giant's a closer relative of skunks, raccoons, and weasels.

For the purposes of these questions, you must spend this money on yourself -- it is not to be donated to charity or given to needy friends, though if you have a partner or a family, you may use it for things that benefit them as well as yourself, such as a holiday for two.
If you unexpectedly received $10... I would put it with another $10 to buy Lisa Hunt's new Fairy Tale Tarot.
If you unexpectedly received $100... I would buy one of Abe Books' single issues of The Little Review (preferably one of the issues serializing Ulysses), and spend whatever was left on Etsy stuff.
If you unexpectedly received $1,000... I would take the family to Boston for the weekend in October to see autumn in New England, the Harry Potter exhibition at the Museum of Science, and Boston Harbor via a sailing ship.
If you unexpectedly received $10,000... I would get our deck rebuilt before it collapses.
If you unexpectedly received $100,000... I would do all of the above plus tear out our first-floor carpets, have the wood floors refinished, buy area rugs, rip out the kitchen linoleum and put down tile, replace the cabinets, get built-in bookcases in the living room, and have an interior designer come up with a way to fit all of younger son's stuff into his miniscule room.
If you unexpectedly received $1,000,000... I'd do the minimum work necessary to the townhouse to sell it, buy a house surrounded by trees with a good yard for a dog (preferably within walking distance of running water, but in this area, a million dollars doesn't come close to paying for a waterfront mansion), and put whatever's left into the bank for the kids' college.

We watched Due South's "The Edge" and "We Are the Eggmen" -- I think we all preferred the latter, despite some concern about the fate of the chickens, because Fraser's "I'm getting old and losing it" angst was just a bit hard to swallow given the particular international thriller scenario in play, but it was worth watching just to see Diefenbaker's dream sequence after Fraser's. I'm only lukewarm on Fraser's boss despite trying to like her, but Francesca gets better and better.

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