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Saturday, May 7, 2011

September Notebook: Stories

(Robert Haas, poet laureate, 1995-1997)


Everyone comes here from a long way off
(is a line from a poem I read last night).

* * *

Driving up 80 in the haze, they talked and talked.
(Smoke in the air shimmering from wildfires.)
His story was sad and hers was roiled, troubled.

* * *

A man and a woman, old friends, are in a theater
watching a movie in which a man and a woman,
old friends, are driving through summer on a mountain road.
The woman is describing the end of her marriage
and sobbing, shaking her head and laughing
and sobbing. The man is watching the road, listening,
his own more diffuse unhappiness in abeyance,
and because, in the restaurant before the film,
the woman had been describing the end of her marriage
and cried, they are not sure whether they are in the theater
or on the mountain road, and when the timber truck
comes suddenly around the bend, they both flinch.

* * *

He found that it was no good trying to tell
what happened that day. Everything he said
seemed fictional the moment that he said it,
the rain, the scent of her hair, what she said
as she was leaving, and why it was important
for him to explain that the car had been parked
under eucalyptus on a hillside, and how velvety
and blurred the trees looked through the windshield;
not, he said, that making fictions might not be
the best way of getting at it, but that nothing he said
had the brute, abject, unassimilated quality
of a wounding experience: the ego in any telling
was already seeing itself as a character, and a character,
he said, was exactly what he was not at that moment,
even as he kept wanting to explain to someone,
to whomever would listen, that she had closed the door
so quietly and so firmly that the beads of rain
on the side window didn’t even quiver.

~ Robert Haas, born 1941, American poet, critic, and translator

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