Last year when we went to California for the weekend to see a play, it was actually a double feature with another student work that dramatized poetry by Robert Hass. I'll confess that I'd never heard of Hass before (I don't pay much attention to modern poetry), and I was more interested in the play we came to see, but I kind of liked the other work as well. As I think I've mentioned before, I don't often spontaneously read poetry on my own, but I really love hearing it read out loud; that is when I enjoy it most This particular poem particularly touched me in its performance. I also find myself still mulling over the title; it's one of my favorite poem titles.
The World as Will and Representation
by Robert Hass
When I was a child my father every morning—
Some mornings, for a time, when I
was ten or so,
My father gave my mother a drug called antabuse.
you sick if you drink alcohol.
They were little yellow pills. He ground them
In a glass, dissolved them in water, handed her
The glass and watched her
closely while she drank.
It was the late nineteen-forties, a time,
social world, in which the men got up
And went to work, leaving the women
with the children.
His wink at me was a nineteen-forties wink.
her closely so she couldn’t “pull
A fast one” or “put anything over” on a
As shrewd as the two of us. I hear those phrases
In old movies and
my mind begins to drift.
The reason he ground the medications fine
that the pills could be hidden under the tongue
And spit out later. The
reason that this ritual
Occurred so early in the morning—I was told,
knew it to be true—was that she could,
If she wanted, induce herself to
So she had to be watched until her system had
Absorbed the drug.
Hard to render, in these lines,
The rhythm of the act. He ground two of
To powder in a glass, filled it with water,
Handed it to her, and
watched her drink.
In my memory, he’s wearing a suit, gray,
a white shirt she had ironed.
Some mornings, as in the comics we read
Dagwood went off early to placate
Mr. Dithers, leaving Blondie with crusts
Of toast and yellow rivulets of egg yolk
To be cleared before she went
On what the comic called a shopping spree—
With Trixie, the
next-door neighbor, my father
Would catch an early bus and leave the task
Of vigilance to me. “Keep and eye on Mama, pardner.”
You know the passage
of the Aeneid? The man
Who leaves the burning city with his
On his shoulders, holding his young son’s hand,
Means to do well
among the flaming arras
And the falling columns while the blind prophet,
Arms upraised, howls from the inner chamber,
“Great Troy is fallen.
Great Troy is no more.”
Slumped in a bathrobe, penitent and
My mother at the kitchen table gagged and drank,
gagged. We get our first moral idea
About the world—about justice and
Gender and the order of things—from somewhere.
(Read a discussion of the poem here).