from L’Heure Bleue
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
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.
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