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Privilege of Being, By Robert Hass

February 14, 1999

Many are making love. Up above, the angels

in the unshaken ether and crystal

of human longing

are braiding one another's hair, which is

strawberry blond

and the texture of cold rivers. They glance

down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy--

it must look to them like featherless birds

splashing in the spring puddle of a bed--

and then one woman, she is about to come,

peels back the man's shut eyelids and says,

look at me, and he does. Or is it the man

tugging the curtain rope in that dark theater?

Anyway, they do, they look at each other;

two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,

startled, connected at the belly

in an unbelievably sweet

lubricious glue, stare at each other,

and the angels are desolate. They hate it. They

shudder pathetically

like lithographs of Victorian beggars

with perfect features and alabaster

skin hawking rags

in the lewd alleys of the novel.

All of creation is offended by this distress.

It is like the keening sound

the moon makes sometimes,

rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,

it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that

they close their eyes again and hold

each other, each

feeling the mortal singularity of the body

they have enchanted out of death

for an hour or so,

and one day, running at sunset, the woman

says to the man,

I woke up feeling so sad this morning

because I realized

that you could not, as much as I love you,

dear heart, cure my loneliness,

wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him

that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.

And the man is not hurt exactly,

he understands that life has limits, that people

die young, fail at love,

fail of their ambitions. He runs beside

her, he thinks

of the sadness they have gasped and crooned

their way out of

coming, clutching each other with old, invented

forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready

to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely

companionable like the couples

on the summer beach

reading magazine articles about intimacy

between the sexes

to themselves, and to each other,

and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.

From "The Handbook of Heartbreak: 101 Poems of Lost Love and Sorrow," edited by Robert Pinsky (Rob Weisbach Books / William Morrow: 158 pp., $18)

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