Days and nights on the cusp of sugaring season. It’s been years since I made a living sugaring, but I haven’t forgotten the years the kids and I inhabited the sugarhouse for a month and more. Walking at dusk, as the night bites my eyes and the tip of my nose, I remember what close friends the weather and I were in those weeks of sugar and ash. The children were always in sodden snowsuits, or their fingers shivered from lost mittens, or their faces were crimson with heat, cheeks sticky with a maple patina. We ate oatmeal and nachos, drank coffee with syrup, baked pizza in the arch when the fire burned to coals. We were always hungry.
One night, a daughter sleeping against me in bed, I read a Louise Glück poem in the New Yorker while knitting a yellow bunny for that sleeping child’s Easter gift. I gobbled that poem, ripped it from the magazine, thumbtacked it over my desk. Forget it’s still February; the poem must be read.
The light stays longer in the sky, but it’s a cold light,
it brings no relief from winter.
My neighbor stares out the window,
talking to her dog. He’s sniffing the garden,
trying to reach a decision about the dead flowers.
It’s a little early for all this.
Everything’s still very bare—
nevertheless, something’s different today from yesterday.
We can see the mountain: the peak’s glittering where the ice catches the light.
But on the sides the snow’s melted, exposing bare rock.
My neighbor’s calling the dog, making her unconvincing doglike sounds.
The dog’s polite; he raises his head when she calls,
but he doesn’t move. So she goes on calling,
her failed bark slowly deteriorating into a human voice.
All her life she dreamed of living by the sea
but fate didn’t put her there.
It laughed at her dreams;
it locked her up in the hills, where no one escapes.
The sun beats down on the earth, the earth flourishes.
And every winter, it’s as though the rock underneath the earth rises
higher and higher and the earth becomes rock, cold and rejecting.
She says hope killed her parents, it killed her grandparents.
It rose up each spring with the wheat
and died between the heat of summer and the raw cold.
In the end, they told her to live near the sea,
as though that would make a difference.
By late spring she’ll be garrulous, but now she’s down to two words,
never and only, to express this sense that life’s cheated her.
Never the cries of the gulls, only, in summer, the crickets, cicadas.
Only the smell of the field, when all she wanted
was the smell of the sea, of disappearance.
The sky above the fields has turned a sort of grayish pink
as the sun sinks. The clouds are silk yarn, magenta and crimson.
And everywhere the earth is rustling, not lying still.
And the dog senses this stirring; his ears twitch.
He walks back and forth, vaguely remembering
from other years this elation. The season of discoveries
is beginning. Always the same discoveries, but to the dog
intoxicating and new, not duplicitous.
I tell my neighbor we’ll be like this
when we lose our memories. I ask her if she’s ever seen the sea
and she says, once, in a movie.
It was a sad story, nothing worked out at all.
The lovers part. The sea hammers the shore, the mark each wave leaves
wiped out by the wave that follows.
Never accumulation, never one wave trying to build on another,
never the promise of shelter—
The sea doesn’t change as the earth changes;
it doesn’t lie.
You ask the sea, what can you promise me
and it speaks the truth; it says erasure.
Finally the dog goes in.
We watch the crescent moon,
very faint at first, then clearer and clearer
as the night grows dark.
Soon it will be the sky of early spring, stretching above the stubborn ferns and
Nothing can be forced to live.
— Louise Glück
The earth is like a drug now, like a voice from far away,
a lover or master. In the end, you do what the voice tells you.
It says forget, you forget.
It says begin again, you begin again.