The Reader


But now it is she who pauses,

As if to re­ject my thought and its easy fig­ure.

A still­ness great­ens, in which

The whole house seems to be think­ing.

—from “The Writer” by Richard Wil­bur

I’m the girl be­hind the door in Richard Wil­bur’s poem,

typ­ing in soli­tude. Con­fine­ment frees me

from my fam­ily. The sen­tences I make are blades,

the brash clat­ter of the keys a song: I’m get­ting out.

Wil­bur in­vented this scene of writ­ing: the daugh­ter,

the typ­ing, the shut door, the lin­den that tosses

against the win­dow, the bird as metaphor, his own paused

self in­ter­pret­ing her key­strokes as a kind of war.

What does he know of her writ­ing and its causes?

But now it is she who pauses

to ques­tion my in­tru­sion in her home. How can I com­pare

my­self to her? No. I’m the par­ent, lis­ten­ing on the stair

to the rhythms that my daugh­ter makes. I long

to hold her cap­tive in the house of words I’ve built

to keep her safe. In­stead, I must open the case­ment,

brace my­self for the com­ing, nec­es­sary rup­ture.

It ar­rives with all the breath­less grace and power

of the pris­oner re­leased. I watch her as she turns

away from me and strides into her fu­ture,

as if to re­ject my thought and its easy fig­ure.

I’m the bird in the room, the fright­ened star­ling

flut­ter­ing hard against the win­dow glass. Wild,

he called me, sleek and iri­des­cent. Yes. I fled too early

from my par­ents’ house and rec­og­nized too late

that grief would lodge like fire in my throat,

that I’d be haunted and be­witched

and typ­ing hard through ev­ery night. And now,

in a house of books, with nei­ther par­ents nor child,

where the doors lock, and the clock ticks,

a still­ness great­ens, in which

I’m only the reader of this poem. It cuts me twice,

with its es­cap­ing and its let­ting go. This morn­ing

news of Wil­bur’s death comes hard in the frozen

dark, and I reread “The Writer,” a poem in which

I’ve lived for forty years, as I live in this house—

alone and typ­ing, some­times drink­ing,

while the still­ness swells in the cold air, fill­ing

the empty rooms un­til there’s no sound any­where.

Only win­ter clos­ing in, and the mer­cury sink­ing.

The whole house seems to be think­ing.

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