Friday, October 23, 2009

16th Street Rose

Getting on the subway recently I was surprised to find seats available and sat down immediately between a young woman and a young man. The young woman had wide, innocent eyes and looked like the kind of person who sees the best in people. The man had a look of distrust and maybe contempt. I know they see me through filters of personality and history. If they see me at all. Most likely I'm just a faint shadow moving across their eyelids, immediately slipping into the ocean at the back of their minds. How strange, all the people who've crossed my field of vision, who I never saw, but who no doubt left traces that build into the sound I hear ringing in my ears when the room is quiet.

For reading I pulled out a volume of Rilke's poems I've had since college and looked at rarely. I was never ready for Rilke. Why I've picked it up now I have no idea whatsoever. It's falling apart though, the poems fall out of the book as I read them, so this looks to be the last chance.

Seated between the two riders I opened the book at random. The decaying book revealed a poem called The Song of the Waif and I soon learned that reading Rilke on the subway is not advisable. It starts "I am nobody and always will be." A good line for the subway, where riders are pretty much nobodies to each other, and I think we like it that way. We ride our silent conspiracy of anonymity in and out of the city with a sleepy comfort. This nobody was dropping her head to hide the pathos evoked by Rilke's waif, a desperate unloved child paradoxically doomed and blessed simultaneously.

When Rilke was a child his mother dressed him in girl's clothes because she had never gotten over the death of her firstborn, a daughter. How strange it must have been for the child to bear the weight of his mother's trauma and instinctively know he represented someone else, with so little hope of being valued for himself. I think I've felt that way my whole life, and I think my parents may have too.

In the poems I've been reading today children's gowns are one of the most affecting motifs, they speak of much more than Rilke's personal history, they are a deeply pronged testament to childhood's terrible vulnerability, and other important things beyond the reach of my comprehension. Perhaps the motif came to him as a gift from his desperate mother, nearly insane with her loss. What an amazing work, turning the barbs into gifts, how did he learn to do it? Perhaps by listening in on the dreams of sleeping roses.

1 comment:

Kenmeer livermaile said...

"silent conspiracy of anonymity"

perfame: perfume marketed by a celebrity.