Friday, September 10, 2010

A Poem

Dear readers,

The world is full of poetry. It is the crinkled face of the woman at the bus stop, whose hands tremble so much that she cannot hold her cup of cheap coffee. It is the night vision of the Capitol building. It is memory: my first time singing "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan, my mother teaching me to do laundry, driving through the rambling fields of England with my father talking about becoming a novelist. It is the quick, quiet call of your heart out of itself towards the story of Echo and Narcissus, because try as you might, you hear yourself echoing someone else's words. It is the agony of waiting to be beautiful, or waiting to be told. It is the book you open and inhale, smelling its mustiness and promise. It is your ponderings about predestination as a poker game, drawing with words the oak tree covered in Spanish moss that sits in the old cemetery in Selma, AL.

Today I want to share with you a poem I have loved for a long time, by a poet named Lisel Mueller. She writes this about Monet:

Monet Refuses the Operation

Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say that there are no haloes

around the streetlights in Paris

and what I see is an aberration

caused by old age, an affliction.

I tell you it has taken me all my life

to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,

to soften and blur and finally banish

the edges you regret I don't see,

to learn that the line I called the horizon

does not exist and sky and water,

so long apart, are the same state of being.

Fifty-four years before I could see

Rouen cathedral is built

of parallel shafts of sun,

and now you want to restore

my youthful errors: fixed

notions of top and bottom,

the illusion of three-dimensional space,

wisteria separate

from the bridge it covers.

What can I say to convince you

the Houses of Parliament dissolve

night after night to become

the fluid dream of the Thames?

I will not return to a universe

of objects that don't know each other,

as if islands were not the lost children

of one great continent. The world

is flux, and light becomes what it touches,

becomes water, lilies on water,

above and below water,

becomes lilac and mauve and yellow

and white and cerulean lamps,

small fists passing sunlight

so quickly to one another

that it would take long, streaming hair

inside my brush to catch it.

To paint the speed of light!

Our weighted shapes, these verticals,

burn to mix with air

and changes our bones, skin, clothes

to gases. Doctor,

if only you could see

how heaven pulls earth into its arms

and how infinitely the heart expands

to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Do you have poems you love? Send them to me - I love to hear new poems and people's favorites.




  1. Hannah says: "My mother teaching me to do laundry was not anything like a poem. Plus, google checkmate."

  2. Dear Agnes/Hannah,

    You'd be surprised what poetic things can be said about your mother doing laundry (especially when you're on your own and have to do it yourself!). Plus, triple google infinity infinity checkmate. And look for a letter to the Howard family in the mail soon!


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