The Transparent Man
I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis, And thank you very kindly for this visit— Especially now when all the others here Are having holiday visitors, and I feel A little conspicuous and in the way. It's mainly because of Thanksgiving. All these mothers And wives and husbands gaze at me soulfully And feel they should break up their box of chocolates For a donation, or hand me a chunk of fruitcake. What they don't understand and never guess Is that it's better for me without a family; It's a great blessing. Though I mean no harm. And as for visitors, why, I have you, All cheerful, brisk and punctual every Sunday, Like church, even if the aisles smell of phenol. And you always bring even better gifts than any On your book-trolley. Though they mean only good, Families can become a sort of burden. I've only got my father, and he won't come, Poor man, because it would be too much for him. And for me, too, so it's best the way it is. He knows, you see, that I will predecease him, Which is hard enough. It would take a callous man To come and stand around and watch me failing. (Now don't you fuss; we both know the plain facts.) But for him it's even harder. He loved my mother. They say she looked like me; I suppose she may have. Or rather, as I grew older I came to look More and more like she must one time have looked, And so the prospect for my father now Of losing me is like having to lose her twice. I know he frets about me. Dr. Frazer Tells me he phones in every single day, Hoping that things will take a turn for the better. But with leukemia things don't improve. It's like a sort of blizzard in the bloodstream, A deep, severe, unseasonable winter, Burying everything. The white blood cells Multiply crazily and storm around, Out of control. The chemotherapy Hasn't helped much, and it makes my hair fall out. I know I look a sight, but I don't care. I care about fewer things; I'm more selective. It's got so I can't even bring myself To read through any of your books these days. It's partly weariness, and partly the fact That I seem not to care much about the endings, How things work out, or whether they even do. What I do instead is sit here by this window And look out at the trees across the way. You wouldn't think that was much, but let me tell you, It keeps me quite intent and occupied. Now all the leaves are down, you can see the spare, Delicate structures of the sycamores, The fine articulation of the beeches. I have sat here for days studying them, And I have only just begun to see What it is that they resemble. One by one, They stand there like magnificent enlargements Of the vascular system of the human brain. I see them there like huge discarnate minds, Lost in their meditative silences. The trunks, branches and twigs compose the vessels That feed and nourish vast immortal thoughts. So I've assigned them names. There, near the path, Is the great brain of Beethoven, and Kepler Haunts the wide spaces of that mountain ash. This view, you see, has become my Hall of Fame, It came to me one day when I remembered Mary Beth Finley who used to play with me When we were girls. One year her parents gave her A birthday toy called "The Transparent Man." It was made of plastic, with different colored organs, And the circulatory system all mapped out In rivers of red and blue. She'd ask me over And the two of us would sit and study him Together, and do a powerful lot of giggling. I figure he's most likely the only man Either of us would ever get to know Intimately, because Mary Beth became A Sister of Mercy when she was old enough. She must be thirty-one; she was a year Older than I, and about four inches taller. I used to envy both those advantages Back in those days. Anyway, I was struck Right from the start by the sea-weed intricacy, The fine-haired, silken-threaded filiations That wove, like Belgian lace, throughout the head. But this last week it seems I have found myself Looking beyond, or through, individual trees At the dense, clustered woodland just behind them, Where those great, nameless crowds patiently stand. It's become a sort of complex, ultimate puzzle And keeps me fascinated. My eyes are twenty-twenty, Or used to be, but of course I can't unravel The tousled snarl of intersecting limbs, That mackled, cinder grayness. It's a riddle Beyond the eye's solution. Impenetrable. If there is order in all that anarchy Of granite mezzotint, that wilderness, It takes a better eye than mine to see it. It set me on to wondering how to deal With such a thickness of particulars, Deal with it faithfully, you understand, Without blurring the issue. Of course I know That within a month the sleeving snows will come With cold, selective emphases, with massings And arbitrary contrasts, rendering things Deceptively simple, thickening the twigs To frosty veins, bestowing epaulets And decorations on every birch and aspen. And the eye, self-satisfied, will be misled, Thinking the puzzle solved, supposing at last It can look forth and comprehend the world. That's when you have to really watch yourself. So I hope that you won't think me plain ungrateful For not selecting one of your fine books, And I take it very kindly that you came And sat here and let me rattle on this way.
Anthony Hecht was born in New York City in 1923. His books of poetry include The Darkness and the Light (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001); Flight Among the Tombs (1996); The Transparent Man (1990); Collected Earlier Poems (1990); The Venetian Vespers (1979); Millions of Strange Shadows (1977); The Hard Hours (1967), which won the Pulitzer Prize; and A Summoning of Stones (1954).
Date Published: 1991-01-24
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/transparent-man