Duino Elegies: The First Elegy
So I’m screaming at the top of my lungs and this angel
comes up and grabs me, which is even scarier than
the reason I was screaming in the first place. It’s like the first scary movie
I ever saw, in which a little girl is touching the TV with its pretty
static, and then things are flying all around the room and I needed
the lights on to sleep for a week. Angels are like that, only worse.
I don’t know if I have ever cried while calling
someone on the phone. Certainly not my mother. Who can you call
if you can’t call your mother, even if she is an angel?
And I was afraid of getting a dog because the dog’s eyes
would follow me around the room, constantly telling me I was at home
even if I wasn’t. I suppose I could comfort myself by thinking
of a tree on the street I grew up on, except I grew up on two streets and the second was all
new houses, which they had to cut down a bunch of trees to build.
After that my grandmother moved in with us
and never left, although I did.
is something she never said to me, unless it was after I had already fallen
asleep, when I was alone with my heart and the man
with no face. It’s true that the Chinese sometimes say “lover”
when they really mean husband or wife.
Don’t you get it yet? Sheesh. Talking to you is like
trying to get a puppy to drop what it’s eating, which turns out to be
a dead bird’s head, with its red tongue and cracked beak.
Yeah, well. You can plead spring fever
as much as you want, but you have to listen when I tell you
about learning to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”
on the violin: can’t you hear it as if you were standing
under an open window? Your mission, should you choose
to accept it, is to make each wedding announcement
the same and yet special, perhaps folding down a corner or tearing
off one decorative leaf. (The parakeet I kept in a cage
in the basement died with a little red spot on its chest
after one of my friends coughed on it. Now he’s dead too.)
When I’m watching American Idol and Carrie
Underwood (not yet an Idol) is up there alone and desolate,
I’m a little bit jealous: she sounds even better
after she’s been crying. But don’t worry about
the runner-up, who still gets to go on tour
and whose hair should remind us of Jesus: now the girls
will scream even louder, out of sympathy.
Beautiful people are really unnatural
and aren’t meant to stay together. It’s really hard for me
to feel sorry for Jennifer Aniston,
although I did wonder how it must feel for her to go
to the mall and see all of those little table tents
on every table in the food court with Angelina and Brad.
I get People magazine. But shouldn’t I finally
get tired of reading it? Isn’t it time
to turn off the TV and just stand there, waiting?
You’d have to be some kind of springloaded
angel. Because you can’t stay here.
Ahem. I must admit that I find
the sound of a heart heard through a stethoscope
exciting, though not in the way a doctor would. My father
wanted me to read science books alongside the science fiction
but I was so not listening. It’s not like it was God’s voice
or something. What I did listen to
was “Mister Roboto” on a turntable in the basement
until all I could hear was the needle scratching nothing.
Although once when I was in Sunday school and we went up to wait
outside the grownups’ chapel, I could hear from behind the doors this deep single voice
that sounded like a hundred voices saying the same thing,
which I figured was God talking. I couldn’t tell what it was saying.
What did it want from me? I doubt I knew words like “injustice”
or “hindrance” then, but if I had been able
to go through the closed doors I might have learned.
I didn’t like thinking about what it would be like to be dead, even though
it’s not like I really knew what it was like to be alive,
with its roses and stuff. I actually prefer tulips.
The toy I most regretted breaking was the Millennium
Falcon, with its removable top and its rotating
cannon, and its compartments for each action figure to live alone,
grasping tiny weapons in their unbending hands.
But after a while I forgot about it, the way I forgot
about all the cartoon specials I taped and insisted
that I would want to watch forever. Maybe that’s what it’s like being dead.
“Eternity” I pictured as a bunch of angels rotating around and around
in a cloud, getting farther away but never disappearing. That’s dumb, I know,
but probably understandable, since what else would angels
know about what it was like to move, any more than
the water going over a waterfall
is the same as the water flowing out of the tap
when I’m washing the dishes.
I had a friend whose father was killed
by a car when running for a train. For a while she needed me;
then, after a while, she didn’t. I don’t know what it was
I was supposed to learn from this experience, since the loss wasn’t really mine
except indirectly: could I have grown up without it?
Whenever Linus grabs his blanket like an angel or Schroeder
sits down at the piano, the whole panel looks empty except
for Lucy or whoever else is sitting there listening the way kids
will only listen to their mothers. There’s nothing at all going on,
which sometimes helps.