Cornwall

by Louise Glück | June 7, 2012

A word drops into the mist
like a child's ball into high grass
where it remains intermittently visible,
seductively flashing and glinting
until the gold bursts are revealed to be
simply field buttercups.

Word/mist, word/mist—thus it was with me.
And yet, my silence was never total—

Like a curtain rising on a vista,
sometimes the mist cleared: alas, the game was over.
The game was over and the word had been
somewhat flattened by the elements
so it was now both recovered and useless. 

I was renting, at the time, a house in the country.
Fields and mountains had replaced tall buildings.
Fields, cows, sunsets over the damp meadow.
Night and day distinguished by rotating bird calls,
the busy murmurs and rustlings merging into
something akin to silence.

How hopeful I was!
I had brought my paints with me,
packing them as one might pack
an umbrella for a trip to the desert.

I sat, I walked about. When night came,
I went indoors. I cooked modest dinners for myself
by the light of candles.
Evenings, when I could, I wrote in my journal. 

Far, far away I heard cowbells
crossing the meadow.
The night grew quiet in its way.
I sensed the vanished words
lying with their companions,
like fragments of an unclaimed biography.

It was all, of course, a great mistake.
Even the sketchbooks remained blank,
the innocent paper that asked for nothing,
for drafts, merely. 

I was, I believed, facing the end.
Like a fissure in a dirt road,
the end appeared before me—

as though the tree that confronted my parents
had become an abyss shaped like a tree, a black hole
expanding in the dirt, where by day
a simple shadow would have done. 

It was, finally, a relief to go home.
I packed my paints again, I packed
my sketchbooks. Frankly,
I could have buried them. 

At home, the studio was filled with boxes.
Cartons of tubes, boxes of the various
objects that were my still lives,
the vases and mirrors, the blue bowl
I filled with wooden eggs. 

As to the journal:
I tried, I persisted.
I moved my chair onto the balcony— 

The streetlights were coming on,
lining the side of the river.
The offices were going dark.
At the river's edge,
fog encircled the streetlights.
One could not, after awhile, see the lights
but a strange radiance suffused the fog,
its source a mystery. 

The night progressed. Fog
swirled over the lit bulbs.
I suppose this is where it was visible;
elsewhere, it was simply the way things were,
blurred where they had been sharp. 

I shut my book.
It was all behind me, all in the past. 

Ahead, as I have said, was silence. 

I spoke to no one.
Sometimes the phone rang. 

Day alternated with night,
the earth and sky taking turns being illuminated.

This poem appeared in the June 28, 2012 issue of the magazine.

 

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/poetry/magazine/103922/cornwall