A Clearing (by Louis Simpson)
A Clearing (by Louis Simpson)
Louis Simpson, The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems, 1940-2001 (Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2003). This poem is reproduced on the Griffin Prize Web Site (from a volume on the 2004 International Shortlist).
1I had come to Australia
2for ten weeks, as a guest of the state.
3My duties were light: to confer
4with students. They didn’t want to--
5they came once or twice, that was all.
6One night someone knocked: a student
7with some poems she’d like me to see.
8The next day I observed her
9in the dining room, and went over.
10"I liked" I began to say …
11She lifted her hands, imploring me
12not to speak. All around her
13they were talking about the usual subjects,
14motorbikes and football.
15If it got around that she wrote poems …
16At night I would sit in my room
17reading, keeping a journal,
18and, with the aid of a map,
19trying to learn the positions
20of the southern constellations.
21I’d look at them on the map,
22then go outside and try to find them
23in the sky before I forgot.
24I had recently been divorced
25and was starting a new life,
26as they say. The world lies before you,
27where to live and what to be.
28A fireman? An explorer?
29An astronaut? Then you look in the mirror.
30It was night sweats. Listening
31to an echo of the end.
32Roger had a live-in girlfriend.
33They asked if I’d like to go with them
34to a party and sleep over.
35He drove. I looked at the gum trees.
36Not the Outback, but country …
37cattle and kangaroos,
38and flies, getting in your eyes,
39ears, nose, and mouth.
40Once, talking to a sheepherder,
41I watched a fly crawl over his face
42from his eye to his mouth,
43and start walking back
44before he brushed it off.
45They learn to put up with nature
46and not make a fuss like us.
47We arrived. I was introduced,
48and they made up a bed for me
49on the porch at the back.
50Then the party began to arrive:
51Australians, lean and athletic.
52They put a tape on the stereo,
53turned it up full blast,
54and danced, or stood and shouted
55to each other above the noise.
56I danced with two or three women
57and tried shouting. Then I went
58and sat on the bed on the porch.
59There was nowhere to go, no door
60I could close to shut out the noise.
61So I went for a walk
62in the dark, away from the sound.
63There were gum trees, wind rustling
64the leaves. Or was it snakes?
65There are several venomous kinds.
66The taipan. There’s a story
67about a child who was sitting
68on a log and fell backward
69onto a taipan. It struck him
71There’s the tiger snake and the brown.
72When they have finished telling you
73about snakes, they start on spiders.
74You don’t need these--you have only to walk
75into the bush. There are stories
76about campers who did, and were lost
77and never seen again.
78All this was on my mind.
79I stepped carefully, keeping the lights
80of the house behind me in sight.
81And when I saw a clearing
82in the trees, I walked to it.
83I stood in the middle of the clearing
84looking at the sky. It was glittering
85with unknown constellations.
86Everything I had ever known
87seemed to have disappeared.
88And who was I, standing there
89in the middle of Australia
90at night? I had ceased to exist.
91There was only whatever it was
92that was looking at the sky
93and listening to the wind.
94After a while I broke away
95and went back to the lights and the party.
96A month later I left Australia.
97But ever since, to this day,
98there has been a place in my mind,
99a clearing in the shadows,
100and above it, stars and constellations
101so bright and thick they seem to rustle.
102And beyond them … infinite space,
103eternity, you name it.
104There’s nothing that stands between me
105and it, whatever it is.
RPO poem Editors