I have this very heavy, beautiful, hard covered block of pages, also known as Robert Lowell’s Collected Poems. Chris gave it to me for Christmas nine years ago and there’s something about it-Its beauty? Its big words? Its scholarly poet on the front cover?-that makes me scared too really get into it. And that’s crazy because Robert Lowell‘s poems on their own are always powerful to me. That’s why for my poem a day, for at least a while, I’m going to be forcing myself to open up that book and read. Which means you may be forced to look at Robert Lowell poems for several Fridays in a row.
This is one of his very best. Here goes…
Waking in the Blue
by Robert Lowell
The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare’s-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My heart grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the “mentally ill.”)
What use is my sense of humor?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with the muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson golf-cap,
worn all day, all night,
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbet and ginger ale-
more cut off from words than a seal.
This is way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean’s;
the hooded night lights bring out “Bobbie,”
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig-
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs.
In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor wrinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.)
After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning. Cock of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor’s jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.