Louise Gluck

A Warm Day

Today the sun was shining
so my neighbor washed her nightdresses in the river—
she comes home with everything folded in a basket,
beaming, as though her life had just been
lengthened a decade. Cleanliness makes her happy—
it says you can begin again,
the old mistakes needn’t hold you back.

A good neighbor—we leave each other
to our privacies. Just now
she’s singing to herself, pinning the damp wash to the line.

Little by little, days like this
will seem normal. But winter was hard:
the nights coming early, the dawns dark
with a gray, persistent rain—months of that,
and then the snow, like silence coming from the sky,
obliterating the trees and gardens.

Today, all that’s past us.
The birds are back, chattering over seeds.
All the snow’s melted; the fruit trees are covered with downy new growth.
A few couples even walk in the meadow, promising whatever they promise.

We stand in the sun and the sun heals us.
It doesn’t rush away. It hangs above us, unmoving,
like an actor pleased with his welcome.

My neighbor’s quiet a moment,
staring at the mountain, listening to the birds.

So many garments, where did they come from?
And my neighbor’s still out there,
fixing them to the line, as though the basket would never be empty—

It’s still full, nothing is finished,
though the sun’s beginning to move lower in the sky;
remember, it isn’t summer yet, only the beginning of spring;
warmth hasn’t taken hold yet, and the cold’s returning—

She feels it, as though the last bit of linen had frozen in her hands.
She looks at her hands—how old they are. It’s not the beginning, it’s the end.
And the adults, they’re all dead now.
Only the children are left, alone, growing old.

- Louise Gluck

Parable of Flight

A flock of birds leaving the side of the mountain. 
Black against the spring evening, bronze in early summer,
rising over blank lake water. 

Why is the young man disturbed suddenly,
his attention slipping from his companion?
His heart is no longer wholly divided; he's trying to think
how to say this compassionately. 

Now we hear the voices of the others, moving through the library
toward the veranda, the summer porch; we see them
taking their usual places on the various hammocks and chairs,
the white wood chairs of the old house, rearranging
the striped cushions. 

Does it matter where the birds go? Does it even matter
what species they are?
They leave here, that's the point,
first their bodies, then their sad cries.
And from that moment, cease to exist for us. 

You must learn to think of our passion that way. 
Each kiss was real, then
each kiss left the face of the earth. 

- Louise Gluck