My AP students took a practice exam on Tuesday that included this poem by Julia Alvarez. I am quite inspired by it. They are just beginning to scratch the surface of it. We’ll discuss on Monday what lies beneath the surface. I hope you enjoy it.
On Not Shoplifting Louise Bogan’s The Blue Estuaries
Connecticut College, 1968
Your book surprised me on the bookstore shelf —
swans gliding on a blueblack lake;
no blurbs by the big boys on back;
no sassy, big-haired picture
to complicate the achievement;
no mentors musing
over how they had discovered
you had it in you
before you even knew
you had it in you.
The swans posed on a placid lake,
your name blurred underwater
sinking to the bottom.
I had begun to haunt
the poetry shelf at the college store —
thin books crowded in by texts,
reference tomes and a spread
of magazines for persistent teens
on how to get their boys,
Your name was not familiar,
I took down the book and read.
Page after page, your poems
were stirring my own poems —
words rose, breaking the surface,
shattering an old silence.
I leaned closer to the print
until I could almost feel
the blue waters drawn
into the tip of my pen.
I bore down on the page,
the lake flowed out again,
the swans, the darkening sky.
For a moment I lost my doubts,
my girl’s voice, my coming late
into this foreign alphabet.
I read and wrote as I read.
I wanted to own this moment.
My breath came quickly, thinking it over —
I had no money, no one was looking.
The swans posed on the cover,
their question-mark necks arced
over the dark waters.
I was asking them what to do . . .
The words they swam over answered.
I held the book closed before me
as if it were something else,
a mirror reflecting back
someone I was becoming.
The swans dipped their alphabet necks
in the blueblack ink of the lake.
I touched their blank, downy sides, musing,
and I put the book back.