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Spring 2013

Approach of the Horizon

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One morning I awoke unable to move my right arm.
I had, periodically, suffered from considerable
pain on that side, in my painting arm,
but in this instance there was no pain.
Indeed, there was no feeling.

My doctor arrived within the hour.
There was immediately the question of other doctors,
various tests, procedures—
I sent the doctor away
and instead hired the secretary who transcribes these notes,
whose skills, I am assured, are adequate to my needs.
He sits beside the bed with his head down,
possibly to avoid being described.

So we begin. There is a sense
of gaiety in the air,
as though birds were singing.
Through the open window come gusts of sweet scented air.

My birthday (I remember) is fast approaching.
Perhaps the two great moments will collide
and I will see my selves meet, coming and going—
Of course, much of my original self
is already dead, so a ghost would be forced
to embrace a mutilation.

The sky, alas, is still far away,
not really visible from the bed.
It exists now as a remote hypothesis,
a place of freedom utterly unconstrained by reality.
I find myself imagining the triumphs of old age,
immaculate, visionary drawings
made with my left hand—
“left,” also, as “remaining.”

The window is closed. Silence again, multiplied.
And in my right arm, all feeling departed.
As when the stewardess announces the conclusion
of the audio portion of one’s in-flight service.

Feeling has departed—it occurs to me
this would make a fine headstone.

But I was wrong to suggest
this has occurred before.
In fact, I have been hounded by feeling;
it is the gift of expression
that has so often failed me.
Failed me, tormented me, virtually all my life.

The secretary lifts his head,
filled with the abstract deference
the approach of death inspires.
It cannot help, really, but be thrilling,
this emerging of shape from chaos.

A machine, I see, has been installed by my bed
to inform my visitors
of my progress toward the horizon.
My own gaze keeps drifting toward it,
the unstable line gently
ascending, descending,
like a human voice in a lullaby.

And then the voice grows still.
At which point my soul will have merged
with the infinite, which is represented
by a straight line,
like a minus sign.

I have no heirs
in the sense that I have nothing of substance
to leave behind.
Possibly time will revise this disappointment.
Those who know me well will find no news here;
I sympathize. Those to whom
I am bound by affection
will forgive, I hope, the distortions
compelled by the occasion.

I will be brief. This concludes,
as the stewardess says,
our short flight.

And all the persons one will never know
crowd into the aisle, and all are funnelled
into the terminal.

—Louise Glück

Louise Glück has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize, the National Book Award, and many other prizes for her poetry. Her Poems 1962–2012 have just been published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in conjunction with Ecco Press.

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