Four Poems



The sky’s light behind the mountain
though the sun is gone—this light
is like the sun’s shadow, passing over the earth.

Before, when the sun was high,
you couldn’t look at the sky or you’d go blind.
That time of day, the men don’t work.
They lie in the shade, waiting, resting;
their undershirts are stained with sweat.

But under the trees it’s cool,
like the flask of water that gets passed around.
A green awning’s over their heads, blocking the sun.
No talk, just the leaves rustling in the heat,
the sound of the water moving from hand to hand.

This hour or two is the best time of day.
Not asleep, not awake, not drunk,
and the women far away
so that the day becomes suddenly calm, quiet, and expansive,
without the women’s turbulence.

The men lie under their canopy, apart from the heat,
as though the work were done.
Beyond the fields, the river’s soundless, motionless—
scum mottles the surface.

To a man, they know when the hour’s gone.
The flask gets put away, the bread, if there’s bread.
The leaves darken a little, the shadows change.
The sun’s moving again, taking the men along,
regardless of their preferences.

Above the fields, the heat’s fierce still, even in decline.
The machines stand where they were left,
patient, waiting for the men’s return.

The sky’s bright, but twilight is coming.
The wheat has to be threshed; many hours remain
before the work is finished.
And afterward, walking home through the fields,
dealing with the evening.

So much time best forgotten.
Tense, unable to sleep, the woman’s soft body
always shifting closer—
That time in the woods: that was reality.
This is the dream.


In the Plaza

For two weeks he’s been watching the same girl,
someone he sees in the plaza. In her twenties maybe,
drinking coffee in the afternoon, the little dark head
bent over a magazine.
He watches from across the square, pretending
to be buying something, cigarettes, maybe, a bouquet of flowers.

Because she doesn’t know it exists,
her power is very great now, fused to the needs of his imagination.
He is her prisoner. She says the words he gives her
in a voice he imagines, low pitched and soft,
a voice from the south as the dark hair must be from the south.

Soon she will recognize him, then begin to expect him.
And perhaps then every day her hair will be freshly washed,
she will gaze outward across the plaza before looking down.
And after that they will become lovers.

But he hopes this will not happen immediately
since whatever power she exerts now over his body, over his emotions,
she will have no power once she commits herself—

she will withdraw into that private world of feeling
women enter when they love. And living there, she will become
like a person who casts no shadow, who is not present in the world;
in that sense, so little use to him
it hardly matters whether she lives or dies.



A dark night—the streets belong to the cats.
The cats and whatever small thing they find to kill—
The cats are fast like their ancestors in the hills
and hungry like their ancestors.

Hardly any moon. So the night’s cool—
no moon to heat it up. Summer’s on the way out
but for now there’s still plenty to hunt
though the mice are quiet, watchful like the cats.

Smell the air—a still night, a night for love.
And every once in a while a scream
rising from the street below
where the cat’s digging his teeth into the rat’s leg.

Once the rat screams, it’s dead. That scream is like a map:
it tells the cat where to find the throat. After that,
the scream’s coming from a corpse.

You’re lucky to be in love on nights like this,
still warm enough to lie naked on top of the sheets,
sweating, because it’s hard work, this love, no matter what anyone says.

The dead rats lie in the street, where the cat drops them.
Be glad you’re not on the street now,
before the street cleaners come to sweep them away. When the sun rises,
it won’t be disappointed with the world it finds,
the streets will be clean for the new day and the night that follows.

Just be glad you were in bed,
where the cries of love drown out the screams of the corpses.



At the same time as the sun’s setting,
a farm worker’s burning dead leaves.

It’s nothing, this fire.
It’s a small thing, controlled,
like a family run by a dictator.

Still, when it blazes up, the farm worker disappears;
from the road, he’s invisible.

Compared to the sun, all the fires here
are short-lived, amateurish—
they end when the leaves are gone.
Then the farm worker reappears, raking the ashes.

But the death is real.
As though the sun’s done what it came to do,
made the field grow, then
inspired the burning of earth.
So it can set now.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Louise Glück was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature. She is the author of numerous books of poetry, most recently, Faithful and Virtuous Night.


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