Friday Poem

A Summer Garden

Several weeks ago I discovered a photograph of my mother

sitting in the sun, her face flushed as with achievement or triumph.

The sun was shining. The dogs

were sleeping at her feet where time was also sleeping,

calm and unmoving as in all photographs.

I wiped the dust from my mother’s face.

Indeed, dust covered everything; it seemed to me the persistent

haze of nostalgia that protects all relics of childhood.

In the background, an assortment of park furniture, trees and shrubbery.

The sun moved lower in the sky, the shadows lengthened and darkened.

The more dust I removed, the more these shadows grew.

Summer arrived. The children

leaned over the rose border, their shadows

merging with the shadows of the roses.

A word came into my head, referring

to this shifting and changing, these erasures

that were now obvious—

it appeared, and as quickly vanished.

Was it blindness or darkness, peril, confusion?

Summer arrived, then autumn. The leaves turning,

the children bright spots in a mash of bronze and sienna.


When I had recovered somewhat from these events,

I replaced the photograph as I had found it

between the pages of an ancient paperback,

many parts of which had been

annotated in the margins, sometimes in words but more often

in spirited questions and exclamations

meaning “I agree” or “I’m unsure, puzzled—”

The ink was faded. Here and there I couldn’t tell

what thoughts occurred to the reader

but through the bruise-like blotches I could sense

urgency, as though tears had fallen.

I held the book awhile.

It was Death in Venice (in translation);

I had noted the page in case, as Freud believed,

nothing is an accident.

Thus the little photograph

was buried again, as the past is buried in the future.

In the margin there were two words,

linked by an arrow: “sterility” and, down the page, “oblivion”—

“And it seemed to him the pale and lovely

summoner out there smiled at him and beckoned…”


How quiet the garden is;

no breeze ruffles the Cornelian cherry.

Summer has come.

How quiet it is

now that life has triumphed. The rough

pillars of the sycamores

support the immobile

shelves of the foliage,

the lawn beneath

lush, iridescent—

And in the middle of the sky,

the immodest god.

Things are, he says. They are, they do not change;

response does not change.

How hushed it is, the stage

as well as the audience; it seems

breathing is an intrusion.

He must be very close,

the grass is shadowless.

How quiet it is, how silent,

like an afternoon in Pompeii.


Mother died last night,

Mother who never dies.

Winter was in the air,

many months away

but in the air nevertheless.

It was the tenth of May.

Hyacinth and apple blossom

bloomed in the back garden.

We could hear

Maria singing songs from Czechoslovakia —

How alone I am 

songs of that kind.

How alone I am,

no mother, no father —

my brain seems so empty without them.

Aromas drifted out of the earth;

the dishes were in the sink,

rinsed but not stacked.

Under the full moon

Maria was folding the washing;

the stiff  sheets became

dry white rectangles of  moonlight.

How alone I am, but in music

my desolation is my rejoicing.

It was the tenth of May

as it had been the ninth, the eighth.

Mother slept in her bed,

her arms outstretched, her head

balanced between them.


Beatrice took the children to the park in Cedarhurst.

The sun was shining. Airplanes

passed back and forth overhead, peaceful because the war was over.

It was the world of her imagination:

true and false were of no importance.

Freshly polished and glittering—

that was the world. Dust

had not yet erupted on the surface of things.

The planes passed back and forth, bound

for Rome and Paris—you couldn’t get there

unless you flew over the park. Everything

must pass through, nothing can stop—

The children held hands, leaning

to smell the roses.

They were five and seven.

Infinite, infinite—that

was her perception of time.

She sat on a bench, somewhat hidden by oak trees.

Far away, fear approached and departed;

from the train station came the sound it made.

The sky was pink and orange, older because the day was over.

There was no wind. The summer day

cast oak-shaped shadows on the green grass.

by Louise Glück
from Poetry, Vol. 199, No. 4, January, 2012