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 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