Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Next Day" by Randall Jarrell

 Moving from Cheer to Joy, 
from Joy to All, 
I take a box And add it to my wild rice, 
my Cornish game hens. 
 The slacked or shorted, basketed
 identical Food-gathering flocks 
Are selves I overlook. 
   Wisdom, said William James, 
  Is learning what to overlook.
  And I am wise If that is wisdom.
 Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
 And the boy takes it to my station wagon, 
What I've become Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.
  When I was young and miserable and pretty And poor,
 I'd wish What all girls wish: to have a husband,
 A house and children.
  Now that I'm old, my wish Is womanish:
 That the boy putting groceries in my car  See me.
  It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
 For so many years I was good enough to eat:
 the world looked at me
 And its mouth watered.   
How often they have undressed me, 
The eyes of strangers! 
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, 
their vile  Imaginings within my imagining, 
I too have taken The chance of life.   
Now the boy pats my dog 
And we start home.   
Now I am good. 
 The last mistaken, 
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, 
the blind  Happiness that, 
bursting, leaves upon the palm 
Some soap and water-- 
It was so long ago, 
back in some Gay Twenties, Nineties, I don't know 
. . . Today I miss My lovely daughter Away at school
, my sons away at school, 
  My husband away at work--I wish for them.
 The dog, the maid,
 And I go through the sure unvarying days
 At home in them.   
As I look at my life, 
I am afraid Only that it will change, 
as I am changing:   
I am afraid, this morning, of my face. 
It looks at me 
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
 The smile I hate.   
Its plain, lined look 
Of gray discovery 
Repeats to me: "You're old."   
That's all, I'm old.  
 And yet I'm afraid,
 as I was at the funeral I went to yesterday.
 My friend's cold made-up face, 
granite among its flowers, 
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body 
Were my face and body. 
As I think of her I hear her telling me   
How young I seem;
 I am exceptional; I
 think of all I have.
 But really no one is exceptional, 
No one has anything, 
I'm anybody, 
I stand beside my grave 
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

Note:  Randall Jarrell wrote this poem in 1960.  He taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (then called the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro). I'm amazed at Jarrell's ability to use a believable, feminine voice.  I also admire his ability to make the ordinary extraordinary.   dls

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