Today in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Elisa Gabbert, author most recently of The Self Unstable.


from L’Heure Bleue


I’m not in love with Jack.

I have a crush on Jack.

Jack is my husband, who left me.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”
is a silly way of putting the truth,
that rejection is seductive.


I go to the movies, though I hate movies.

I always cry at the movies.

It seems important that imaginary people are happy.

No one asks why I never had children.
I guess never is a word for after
you’re dead, as in, “I never loved you.”
I imagine saying it at your grave.

I imagine you with a grave, the way
I imagine having a daughter.

She is always a daughter, never a son,
and never a baby, always 7 or 8.
I am my mother’s age. 


At the poetry reading,
I scribble in a notebook.

The girl with the bee tattoo on her back
satisfies my need for “luminous detail.”

Dusk falls. L’heure bleue. Black trees
silhouetted over indigo sky
is my favorite sight,

a streetlight unfurling
its liquid red beam.

I maintain a certain level
of detachment like a buzz.

A man makes eye contact.

There are times when desire seems
to transfer. He communicates desire;
I am infected by desire.

It’s the worst kind of desire—
too thin a film
between desire and reality. 


When I say what I think,
someone always tells me they agree
or disagree, which ruins
the thought for me.

In this way, little by little,
I forget what I believe.
My memories seem as false
as an alternate reality,

a reflection in a window
I used to pretend was an older,
more sophisticated self—
a woman with pain, in sunglasses.

The thrill I felt
when my grandfather died:
finally some meaning,
or, at least, novelty.

Only at the funeral,
when I saw my mother crying,
did I experience sadness. No—
it’s more that I was frightened.


On TV, people walk into your house
unannounced. They go upstairs
and right into the bedroom.

I wish this would happen to me.
I leave my doors unlocked.

I try to live my life
as a character—eat pancakes
for breakfast, dab at an ugly painting.

There’s a line of empty bottles
in the garage: Campari and red wine.
I’m cultivating habits for my biographer.

With Jack it came out wry,
but now it sounds self-pitying.
I pity myself the more!

I like to think of someone
working on me, years from now—
an archaeologist, a doctor,
someone to figure it out. 


I’m happiest when I live simply,
but they like me when I’m complex.

“They” seem indistinct
from the landscape; I perceive no edges.
Birds in an Escher tessellation.

When it snows I think of Jack,
because Jack loved the snow, coming down
in blurs. I see geese on the lake

and think of Jack. It’s a new park
but the geese are the same, I’m sure
they’re the same geese. Unmajestic,

they shit and wander
meaninglessly, in tandem
with the midges. I don’t know

the present tense of Jack.

He had no sense of constancy.
If the pattern isn’t random
it’s opaque. 


I knew he would go.
And then, one day, he went.
In a way, nothing’s changed.

There is no risk now
of repeating myself.
In fact I prefer it.

My friends keep talking about
some celebrity death,
a controversial writer.
I can’t hide my jealousy.

All my life I’ve had this perverse
desire for what I don’t want—
I think of the worst alternative
and then wish for it.

Things have to pass through
the present to get to the past,
where they can be cherished. 


Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems). 

A portion of this poem is forthcoming in Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics (ed. Andrew Ridker, Black Ocean 2014)