Louise Gluck




Exalted Image

Not one animal, but two.
Not one plate, dwarfed by cutlery,
but a pair of plates, a tablecloth.
And in the market, the little cart
neither poignantly empty nor
desperately full. And in the dark theater,
the two hands seeking each other.

Parts of a shrine, like a shrine in church,
blurred by candles.

And whose idea is this? Who is kneeling there
if not the child who doesn’t belong,
the blemished one for whom
recess is the ordeal.

Later, bent over his work
while the others are passing notes,
earnestly applying what his teacher calls
his good mind to his assignment—
what is he protecting? Is it his heart again,
completely lost
in the margin at the edge of the notebook?

With what do you fill an empty life?
Amorous figures, the self
in a dream, the self
replicated in another self, the two
stacked together, though the arms and legs
are always perfectly shaded
as in an urn or bas relief.

Inside, ashes of the actual life.
Ashes, disappointment—

And all he asks 
is to complete his work, to be
suspended in time like
an orange slice in an ice cube—

Shadows on the dark grass. The wind
suddenly still. And time, which is so impatient,
which wants to go on, lying quietly there, like an animal.
And the lovers lying there in each other’s arms,
their shattered hearts mended again, as in life of course
they will never be, the moment
of consummate delight, of union, able to be sustained—
Is it vivid to them? He has seen them.
He has seen, in his singlemindedness, his apparent abstraction,
neither distracted nor frightened away
by all the writhing, the crying out—

And he has understood; he has restored it all,
exalted figure of the poet, figure of the dreamer.