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The Invisible Woman

by Jessica Hornik

audioear picture Hear Jessica Hornik read this poem (in RealAudio).

(For help, see a note about the audio.)

Also by Jessica Hornik:
Gratitude (1992)
The Closed Forest (1994)

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In the hospital for the terminally unseen,
she resorted to screaming,
but the sense of the things she screamed
got lost -- the voice being
an unreliable narrator of the scene
of the mind. Though she had committed
herself, she had been driven
to her condition by others.

The father, who had died before she was even
seventeen, left her to imagine
the earth as the thing separating
the dead from the living,
a curtain so much denser and darker
than darkness. "The dead don't see
us, and we see them only in dreams"
was one of the things she screamed.

Friends, neighbors, acquaintances --
they saw nothing at all
unusual in her, nothing, certainly,
to which the term "eccentric" could be applied.
Moving among them as one of them,
she wondered if love of one's fellows
was, in fact, an insidious form
of self-betrayal. And all the sundry people
she spent her life's days with -- tellers
at the drive-thru, supermarket cashiers,
UPS men, mechanics ... oh, the conspiracy was grand
to turn her into what she seemed!
"Though not of my choosing,
invisibility is my grand theme"
was one of the things she screamed.

What about the husband?
Like two flashlights whose beams
are shined into each other
head-on with the faces touching,
the intensity of their twinned brightness
left but a faint rim of light,
like an echo, for the world to see.
Her love for him, and his for her, was, then,
another thing about her that went unseen.
And the baby? He saw his mother.
That was what she was,
as far as his eyes could see.
That at the age of, say, twenty-three
he would not remember the love
she had lavished on his one-year-old self
drove her to an absurd despair.
His future could not behold
her present. And yet, when she peered down
the river of his being, she saw no choice
but to pour herself in.
"If I loved him to any greater extreme,
I would disappear"
was one of the things she screamed.

She tried to laugh at herself
and her ridiculous need:
to free the soul from its private quarters
of personality, to let its within and without
be the same thing -- like a water lily
yoking above and below to a single beauty.
In the hospital for the terminally unseen,
she settled in like a deep-sea creature
on the floor of a vastness, accustomed
to the pressure and its attendant lack of light.

Jessica Hornik is a poet whose work has appeared in Poetry,The Yale Review,andThe New Republic.
Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; September 1998; The Invisible Woman; Volume 282, No. 3; page 89.

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