The Well-Watered Ego
Brilliantly alliterative and punnish, Heather McHugh’s confident, sensual insights find the fissures and seams in our ordinary heedlessness. She has a gift for turning our touchy, unnoticed vulnerabilities into revelation.Heather McHugh
In a World of Taking. the Mistake
Down and down into your own regard
you double, dangling a bucket,
to take a shine. What’s the secret?
You’re not interested in anything
there’s only one of. So the mirror is
amazing, and you find yourself inside it
to be deep. If you had another
fifty years, you’d feel no less
this wonderment at being—
framed in a standstill, your head
in the clouds (your likeness in mind),
you’d fall in love with reason. This
is the mistake. You think too much
of your life, far from oceans, far
from rivers, far from streaming. You think,
death I could bear, if it’s anything like
this self in the calm of a held pail.
But the catch in the clarity comes then.
To look like this, you mustn’t ever
be touched or moved again . . .
I swear affective life is water
variously formed and regulated,
curiously colored and abounded,
but at heart
always the same
wet element. And we
are made of it.
No single thing, or unremitting motion,
it can fall (as joy) in flashes
from high rocks, in sprays
of spectra (by its virtue,
sun can be broadcast); or rise
as sorrow, once and for all,
to muddy the living room, rob
the lover of her breathing space . . . Sometimes
its affect is half-bred: a trickle on
a cobblestone, a swamp with flesh-colored
flowers in it,
ice from an eave . . . What
ranges of ringing,
of whoosing and whisking it makes.
Inside our heads (the experts say) there’s
nonstop noise: what we call
silence, it’s our grounds for sound . . .
Maybe it’s water, what broke
so we’d be born; maybe it bore
and goes on bearing us,
till humankind and animals and
gods themselves are swept up
in its school of thought,
till the exploding stars are only
quiet points, afloat. I tell you, even
anaesthesia’s a feeling.
(It’s the feeling we forgot.)