“Next Day”

April 26, 2012

The fourth of Five for Five.  Today’s topic:  Age

For years, Randall Jarell’s poem “Next Day”  was my very favorite poem. I was so amazed by the way that the poet got into the mind of another person.  For years, he let me imagine my way into this nameless speaker’s world.  It was like a horror movie for somebody afraid of scary stuff: I would almost shudder at what it would feel like to be that age.  So old.

And now, I’ve somehow managed to get myself here.  The speaker of this poem can’t be much more than a few years older than I am.  I am now her age.


“Next Day”

— Randall Jarrell

Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Food-gathering flocks
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,

Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I’ve become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.

When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I’d wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I’m old, my wish
Is womanish:
That the boy putting groceries in my car

See me. It bewilders me he doesn’t see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile

Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home. Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind

Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water–
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don’t know . . . Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,

My husband away at work–I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them. As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:

I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate. Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: “You’re old.” That’s all, I’m old.

And yet I’m afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend’s cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me

How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I’m anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.

Randall Jarrell










Margaret April 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Wow! What a poem. I hear ya. I dyed my hair for the first time this year, not to be cool and punk like the girls in college who dyed their hair pink, or sophisticated for my first grown-up job, but just because I finally felt old enough.

Sarah April 30, 2012 at 10:11 pm

I’m sitting in awe of these words. Feeling like I’m finally at a place where I feel like anybody. Not that I consider myself old, but I’ve finally let go of the idea that I’m somebody. I’m not sure if this realization makes me want to laugh in freedom or weep buckets.

Thank you for sharing this, Launa.

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