Monday, April 4, 2011

In Shakespeare

Here's a beautiful poem by James Richardson, with his signature mix of apparently casual wit turning effortlessly into something darker and incisive. This is from THE NEW YORKER, back in February 0f 2007, but I ran across it just today and found it so pleasurable and so acute that I wanted to post it here.


In Shakespeare a lover turns into an ass
as you would expect. People confuse
their consciences with ghosts and witches.
Old men throw everything away
because they panic and can’t feel their lives.
They pinch themselves, pierce themselves with twigs,
cliffs, lightning, and die—yes, finally—in glad pain.

You marry a woman you’ve never talked to,
a woman you thought was a boy.
Sixteen years go by as a curtain billows
once, twice. Your children are lost,
they come back, you don’t remember how.
A love turns to a statue in a dress, the statue
comes back to life. Oh God, it’s all so realistic
I can’t stand it. Whereat I weep and sing.

Such a relief, to burst from the theatre
into our cool, imaginary streets
where we know who’s who and what’s what,
and command with Metrocards our destinations.
Where no one with a story struggling in him
convulses as it eats its way out,
and no one in an antiseptic corridor,
or in deserts or in downtown darkling plains,
staggers through an Act that just will not end,
eyes burning with the burning of the dead.