October, by Louise Glück

October
By Louise Glück
Quarterback Chapbook Series
Sarabande Books. $8.95. 20 pages.
Reviewed by Stephen Page

Autumn After the Fall

October CoverWhile I as reading Louise Glück’s chapbook “October”, I noted a theme that threaded throughout the poem–aftermath. October has always been a special month for me. A time of change. A time of clarity. It begins with the autumnal colors in full show and ends with the trees bare and sometimes a first snowfall. I remember October well when I was growing up. It was a month of crystal cognizance. The air smelled of damp earth and drying leaves. Each breath I took cleared my mind and brought in focus my sense of being with the world. I felt good. But, there was also this lurking feeling of finality. Another year had passed. Summer was over.  I often asked myself, had I done what I wanted to do this past year, or was I in the same place is was last year? Had I accomplished what I needed to accomplish? Most often, I had mixed feelings, yeses and no’s, a sort of sweet melancholy–sad that the year was over but happy that another year was about to begin. I had another year to do what I wanted to do. Yes, as a child, the New Year was always in October, not in January. It was an end, and a beginning. Winter was on the way and, yes, it would be cold. There would be snow. But, snow to me meant snowball fights, snowmen, snow angels, snow-caves cut out in the banks on the side of the road that the snowplows piled up, and of course, snow days—those special breaks from school. Winter represents death to many people, but it meant fun and rest for me. Trees, plants, grass–they weren’t dead, they were just resting, sleeping late, waiting to wake up in spring and flourish in summer. After winter, there was spring and summer vacations, baseball, girls.

Life on earth is measured in seasons and renews itself yearly. For Glück, as I think it is for most North–Hemispherians, October is a sad month, but one that also has hope.

Part I of “October” goes like this:

It is winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the nether end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body
rescued wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted—

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t the vines climb down the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground

I can no longer care
what sounds it makes

when I was silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can’ change what it is—

didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth
safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

Something obviously traumatic has passed here. A scar has formed, terror has happened, something was planted but is no longer there (and I think it is more than just plants in the garden) for the “wind whistled over the bare ground.” The narrator was devastated by an occurrence, so much so she was “silenced.” Most notable is the poem’s form—short lines, long sentences—making the poem appear tall.

The entire poem continues like that–short lines, tall poem. And the there is a horrible sensation of after-violation sliding down the poem:

Violence has changed me . . . (repeated twice in part II)
everything that was taken away . . .
you can’t touch my body now.
It has changed once, it has hardened . . .
My body has grown cold . . .
balm after violence . . .
Tell me I am living,
I won’t believe you.
Death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me . . .
the light has changed . . .
you will not be spared . . .
the unspeakable//has entered them . . .
I strained, I suffered . . .
So much has changed . . .

Yes, something has happened, and I don’t just think it is the harvest. Because of the form of the poem, and some of Glück’s references, it seems something very tall has come down, or collapsed. Something that was once there no longer is:

They eye gets used to disappearances . . .
Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
the brilliance that made all life possible
Become the cold stars.

Glück might be talking about an object, a tall structure (or structures, if you notice the plural is used in the relation between the words “disappearances” and “become”), or she might be talking about ideals (as she refers to often in part IV). She might be talking about both. Whatever the case, she uses the barren-field association of the month of October as representation of something monumental that no longer exists on the horizon. A careful reader will note that October obviously comes after September, and that two monumental somethings fell once in the month of  September.  Glück does spy a kind of hope though, as she leaves the poem on a positive note

my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?

This Review first published in: Gently Read Literature

Read the review on the Issuu site: Gently Read Literature Issuu and turn to page 18.

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