“You must read The Waves,” Tess said.
I read it in the profusion of spring, stretched out in the grass of the college green, and it was certainly a book about me, about Tess, about being young and reading Greek, about all those things I could not myself put into words. How deeply I felt everything! The spring, the poetry of Keats, the key of A minor, sadness, lust, and even restraint. Everything was fresh and new. The ink was still wet on Vergil’s Aeneid. Each cup of coffee was ceremonial, not yet the morning’s habit it would become in middle age. Nothing had been felt before, until I felt it myself. If ever there was a time to read Virginia Woolf, this was it.
“It’s so amazing,” she said.
I was twenty-two—an age at which young men embrace ideologies, Platonism, and the beautiful bodies of young women like Tess. In the dead of winter, I sat in her apartment and watched airplanes descend from one window pane to the next. I listened to Joni Mitchell and drank tea. At night, Tess and I lay together in our skin like fresh candles laid in a drawer, filled with the possibility of incandescence. But we never made love. Once in a great while, even now, I have to push the thought of her body out of my head, because I loved her once, and she is dead.
“Listen,” she says, opening the book. “But now Percival is dead, and Rhoda is dead; we are divided; we are not here. Yet I cannot find any obstacle separating us. There is no division between me and them. As I talked I felt, ‘I am you.’ Don’t you sometimes feel that, too?”
Even now it seems strange that she isn’t somewhere, living with some man or some woman or some collection of cats, deeply troubled as always by the world, but still part of its beauty.
My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .
The frontispiece from Countee Cullen's The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929). Illustration by Charles Cullen. Click to enlarge. On...
Here's the poem I wrote and read for the student-organized International Day of Peace gathering in Bridge Square on Wednesday, Septembe...
In early August, the director of the Northfield Public Library, Teresa Jensen, asked me to write a poem to be displayed prominently in the...