As we make the turn from one calendar year to another, let us remember this: “whatever returns from oblivion returns to find a voice.” That applies to the personal, the political, the metaphorical, and the planetary. It is this phrase that has helped see me through the past few months, that I didn’t even realize I was subconsciously meditating on until it rose to consciousness one day. It’s from one of my favorite poems by Louise Glück, “The Wild Iris,” from the book of the same title.
I first read/heard this poem in 1993 when I was 19 years old. And to be honest, I was very unimpressed and unmoved by it. I even heard Glück herself read it at a reading (where she, and I want to say Donald Hall?) were reading in Ithaca, NY. And aside from the fact that this poem wasn’t the style I was into (think spoken word, narrative poetry), it makes complete sense to me that I didn’t like the poem. I was 19. What did I know of oblivion and long lost voices? I was just beginning to discover my voice, having never really had much of one before. My entire life was trying to foment. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I rediscovered the absolute brilliance of Glück and this poem.
And so for anyone who has lived some real years on this planet, and who has been at all conscious for the past apocalyptic year, I challenge you to read this poem and not take something from it. What if the “speaker” of this poem was a long lost part of yourself, dormant like some sort of flora or fauna underground through a long winter? What would s/he say as s/he rose up out of the ground again? I ask myself these questions every time I read this poem. And every time, the answer is different. We change, we evolve, we grow, we become aware, we become oblivious. Then we do it all over again. Such is my prayer for the new year.
The Wild Iris
At the end of my suffering
there was a door.
Hear me out: that which you call death
Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.
It is terrible to survive
buried in the dark earth.
Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.
You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:
from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.