Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Grace Paley

At FAWC, I had the pleasure of hearing Grace Paley read to a packed audience. There were people sitting in chairs outside in the dark humidity, being bitten by mosquitos, just to hear her. She is a short story writer and poet. I found the following poem in the plagiarist poetry archive:


This Life

My friend tells me
a man in my house jumped off the roof
the roof is the eighth floor of this building
the roof door was locked how did he manage?
his girlfriend had said goodbye I'm leaving
he was 22
his mother and father were hurrying
at that very moment
from upstate to help him move out of Brooklyn
they had heard about the girl

the people who usually look up
and call jump jump did not see him
the life savers who creep around the back staircases
and reach the roof's edge just in time
never got their chance he meant it he wanted
only one person to know

did he imagine that she would grieve
all her young life away tell everyone
this boy I kind of lived with last year
he died on account of me

my friend was not interested he said you're always
inventing stuff what I want to know how could he throw
his life away how do these guys do it
just like that and here I am fighting this
ferocious insane vindictive virus day and
night day and night and for what? for only
one thing this life this life

Grace Paley


Wow, what can I say about this? Those of us who struggle with illness will always be frustrated by those who take their health for granted; imagine the reaction of someone fighting to stay alive hearing about a healthy, young life thrown away for no real reason.

And yet, there was a reason. His heart was broken, but more than that, he had come to a psychological state where dying seemed the logical course of action.

What I find so effective about this poem is Paley's working in of urgency, of an almost-rescued feeling, with the parents "hurrying... from upstate" to help him out, even speculating about the actions of witnesses and rescuers who weren't there. It feels as if the young man was almost saved, but in fact, he carried out his death in secret seclusion.

2 comments:

Danny Sillada said...

Yes, Amy, one's suicide is always carried out in silence and in utmost secrecy.

Most often, the psychologist or psychiatrist would say that those people who curtail their lives are psychologically disturbed. However, based on my experience about the people who are dear to me, they carried out their self-destruction so perfectly without leaving us a hint that tomorrow or this evening they are going to succumb to their own deaths.

Grace Paley's poem "This Life" is flatly woven so as not to dramatize the grim picture of suicide.

Robin said...

I always enjoy hearing her read. Somehow she makes me feel as though I am involved with her, as though I have a relationship with her that is created merely by her voice.