A Man Meets a Woman in the Street

Randall Jarrell

 
Under the separated leaves of shade
Of the gingko, that old tree
That has existed essentially unchanged
Longer than any other living tree,
I walk behind a woman. Her hair's coarse gold
Is spun from the sunlight that it rides upon.
Women were paid to knit from sweet champagne
Her second skin: it winds and unwinds, winds
Up her long legs, delectable haunches,
As she sways, in sunlight, up the gazing aisle.
The shade of the tree that is called maidenhair,
That is not positively known
To exist in a wild state, spots her fair or almost fair
Hair twisted in a French twist; tall or almost tall,
She walks through the air the rain has washed, a clear thing
Moving easily on its high heels, seeming to men
Miraculous . . . Since I can call her, as Swann couldn't,
A woman who is my type, I follow with the warmth
Of familiarity, of novelty, this new
Example of the type,
Reminded of how Lorenz's just-hatched goslings
Shook off the last remnants of the egg
And, looking at Lorenz, realized that Lorenz
Was their mother. Quacking, his little family
Followed him everywhere; and when they met a goose,
Their mother, they ran to him afraid.
Imprinted upon me
Is the shape I run to, the sweet strange
Breath-taking contours that breathe to me: "I am yours,
Be mine!"
              Following this new
Body, somehow familiar, this young shape, somehow old,
For a moment I'm younger, the century is younger.
The living Strauss, his moustache just getting gray,
Is shouting to the players: "Louder!
Louder! I can still hear Madame Schumann-Heink—"
Or else, white, bald, the old man's joyfully
Telling conductors they must play Elektra
Like A Midsummer Night's Dream—like fairy music;
Proust, dying, is swallowing his iced beer
And changing in proof the death of Bergotte
According to his own experience; Garbo,
A commissar in Paris, is listening attentively
To the voice telling how McGillicuddy met McGillivray,
And McGillivray said to McGillicuddy—no, McGillicuddy
Said to McGillivray—that is, McGillivray . . . Garbo
Says seriously: "I vish dey'd never met."
As I walk behind this woman I remember
That before I flew here—waked in the forest
At dawn, by the piece called Birds Beginning Day
That, each day, birds play to begin the day—
I wished as men wish: "May this day be different!"
The birds were wishing, as birds wish—over and over,
With a last firmness, intensity, reality—
"May this day be the same!"
                                        Ah, turn to me
And look into my eyes, say: "I am yours,
Be mine!"
              My wish will have come true. And yet
When your eyes meet my eyes, they'll bring into
The weightlessness of my pure wish the weight
Of a human being: someone to help or hurt,
Someone to be good to me, to be good to,
Someone to cry when I am angry
That she doesn't like Elektra, someone to start out on Proust with.
A wish, come true, is life. I have my life.
When you turn just slide your eyes across my eyes
And show in a look flickering across your face
As lightly as a leaf's shade, a bird's wing,
That there is no one in the world quite like me,
That if only . . . If only . . .
                                      That will be enough.
But I've pretended long enough: I walk faster
And come close, touch with the tip of my finger
The nape of her neck, just where the gold
Hair stops, and the champagne-colored dress begins.
My finger touches her as the gingko's shadow
Touches her.
                  Because, after all, it is my wife
In a new dress from Bergdorf's, walking toward the park.
She cries out, we kiss each other, and walk arm in arm
Through the sunlight that's much too good for New York,
The sunlight of our own house in the forest.
Still, though, the poor things need it . . . We've no need
To start out on Proust, to ask each other about Strauss.
We first helped each other, hurt each other, years ago.
After so many changes made and joys repeated,
Our first bewildered, transcending recognition
Is pure acceptance. We can't tell our life
From our wish. Really I began the day
Not with a man's wish: "May this day be different,"
But with the birds' wish: "May this day
Be the same day, the day of my life."
 
From The Complete Poems. Copyright © 1969 by Mrs. Randall Jarrell. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Poems by This Author

Eighth Air Force by Randall Jarrell
If, in an odd angle of the hutment,
Next Day by Randall Jarrell
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell
From my mother's sleep I fell into the State
The Woman at the Washington Zoo by Randall Jarrell
The saris go by me from the embassies.
Well Water by Randall Jarrell
What a girl called "the dailiness of life"


Further Reading

Poems for Anniversaries
Couple Sharing a Peach
by Molly Peacock
Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri
by Mona Van Duyn
Francesco and Clare
by David St. John
I Married You
by Linda Pastan
Let Me Disappear
by Ray Gonzalez
Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year
by Maxine Kumin
Man and Wife
by Robert Lowell
My Wife
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Orpheus
by Robert Kelly
The Anniversary
by John Donne
The Anniversary
by Elaine Terranova
The Elephant is Slow to Mate
by D.H. Lawrence
The Storm
by Theodore Roethke
The Sympathies of the Long Married
by Robert Bly
To My Dear and Loving Husband
by Anne Bradstreet
Poems about New York
City That Does Not Sleep
by Federico García Lorca
Cityscape 1
by Pablo Medina
In the Village
by Derek Walcott
Making Shelves
by D. Nurkse
Meditations in an Emergency
by Frank O'Hara
New York Notes
by Harvey Shapiro
Nothing Stays Put
by Amy Clampitt
Old Coat
by Liam Rector
Public Transportation
by Elaine Sexton
Summer Night, Riverside
by Sara Teasdale
The Lower East Side of Manhattan
by Victor Hernández Cruz
The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus
The Tropics of New York
by Claude McKay
To Brooklyn Bridge
by Hart Crane