I wanted to stay as I was
still as the world is never still,
not in midsummer but the moment before
the first flower forms, the moment
nothing is as yet past-
not midsummer, the intoxicant,
but late spring, the grass not yet
high at the edge of the garden, the early tulips
beginning to open-
like a child hovering in a doorway, watching the others,
the ones who go first,
a tense cluster of limbs, alert to
the failures of others, the public falterings
with a child’s fierce confidence of imminent power
preparing to defeat
these weaknesses, to succumb
to nothing, the time directly
prior to flowering, the epoch of mastery
before the appearance of the gift,
–Louise Gluck, “The Doorway”
Ed. note: I read the above poem and wrote the below analysis a few weeks ago, with COVID-19 and the reopening of economies weighing on my mind. My opening line was: “A reminder this morning that the non-event can be beautiful, too–richly resonant during this time of waiting.” Interesting how differently–problematically–that observation reads right now, in the context of the sweeping and urgent historical event we are living out right now, one in which “the waiting beforehand” has been anything but beautiful for generations of black Americans.
Re-reading the poem above and my analysis below this week made me realize that it is not only true that two people never read the same book, but that we never read the same book twice, either. Books I discovered at twenty read entirely differently today; poems I read two weeks ago bear new inflections. I used to think that art imposed order on the free-form swing of the emotions of an artist. The logical extension of this perspective meant that I favored a formalist approach to literary studies, and you can probably still see vestiges of that discipline in the way I review books: almost always attending very seriously to narrative structure–to the ribs and spine and delicate metatarsals–versus the overall appearance and the context beyond. But I find myself in the middle of my thirties thinking differently about Roland Barthes telling me that “the author is dead,” a notion I summarily dismissed as overwrought and anarchic as a graduate student. To me, to read was to excavate meaning, which presupposed that the author’s intent was paramount. Now, though, I find myself lingering over Barthes with an arched eyebrow, ears pricked up:
“A text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation; but there is one place where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author as we have hitherto said it was, but the reader: the reader is the very space in which are inscribed, without any being lost, all the
citations a writing consists of; the unity of a text is not in its origin, it is in its destination.”
I read this excerpt today and I think — yes. Yes, both to the fact that the phrase “like a child hovering in a doorway, watching the others / the ones who go first” has entirely changed meaning for me today and yes to the broader interrogation of power his essay invokes.
From my original analysis, which I have preserved in its entirety save for the aforementioned, redacted first line:
I am struck today by the breathlessness of this poem, the line-breaks suggesting either forced restraint (“I wanted to stay as I was,” the speaker commands herself, and at once I imagine standing stock-still, breath bated) or the choppy eagerness of things-just-started (“the grass not yet // high at the edge of the garden” — almost as though the form of the stanza cannot brook the force of the natural world sprouting forward). I relate to both, incidentally: the stiff self-control quarantine has imposed on us all, and at the same time the sensation that things beyond our control are moving us forward.
Also, of course, the stanza about hovering in the doorway “watching the others…alert to / the failures of others, the public falterings” — wow! How true this feels right now, as businesses re-open and friends push forward or withdraw from plans and we watch with wide eyes to determine how and if we participate.
What else strikes you in this poem?
+Have you heard about mommy wipes? I just ordered a package — they purport to be tough enough to act on stains but gentle enough for baby. In other words, I think every mom needs these? Mommy Wipes is a black, female-owned small business.
+In need of a new daily planner — currently eyeing one of these personalizable Papier ones.
+Also in need of new volumizing hair products. Recs? Intrigued by this well-reviewed volumizing root powder, one of many highly-touted haircare products from a business helmed by a black female founder.
+Managed to get my hands on one of the very last of the cult-following Roop furoshiki bags. Depop and boutique Norah have a few left. I am obsessed. These bags are hand-made using only remnant or vintage fabrics, and they remind me of the Ascot bag from The Row — but are less than 1/10th of the price. Roop was founded by a London-based person of color.
+Our foyer is the final frontier in terms of finishing the outfitting of our apartment. I have my eye on this console (on sale). From the same boutique: wouldn’t this seashell-trimmed mirror be perfect for a coastal-style living room/entryway?
+I’ve already gone off the deep end raving about this rose face mask (still using it every other night and loving it), but has anyone tried one of these buzzed-about lip masks from KNC Beauty? I feel like it might be one of those things you never knew you always needed? KNC Beauty is a black-owned business.
+Summer temperatures have arrived, along with the need for more airy day dresses. I am impressed with this eyelet ASOS steal I already purchased and am currently eyeing this Charina Sarte beauty (from a Filipino designer), this breezy kurta, this gorgeous billowy dress (from a black, NY-based designer — the cut and color read couture but the price tag is reasonable), and this $28 linen dress.
+A couple of recent purchases for mini: a ruled dry erase board, as she has taken a sudden interest in writing letters and her teacher mentioned that having a blackboard or dry erase board was best for early writers, as the “stakes are lower.” Also a full liter of bubbles, which we have somehow depleted by half in just two outings to the park (bless you, bubbles, for preoccupying both of my children for the better part of an hour each day), SuperGoop mineral sunscreen stick (for applying to her face — does anyone else struggle with this and their children?! It’s impossible to apply sunscreen to a wriggling child’s face!), a book on Frida Kahlo because her class talked a lot about self-portraiture last week, a few Lacoste polos (on sale), and Wings by Christopher Myer.