Стихотворения Джойс Кэррол Оутс

Hometown Waiting For You

All these decades we’ve been waiting here for you. Welcome!
You do look lonely.
No one knows you the way we know you.
And you know us.

Did you actually (once) tell yourself—I am better than this?
One day actually (once) tell yourself—I deserve better than this?

Fact is,you couldn’t escape us.
And we have been waiting for you. Welcome home!
Boasting how a scholarship bore you away
like a chariot of the gods except
where you are born, your soul remains.

We all die young here.
Not one of us outlived young here.
Check out obituaries
in the Lockport Union Sun & Journal.
Car crash,
Gunshot, fire.
Cancers of breast,
ovaries, lung,
colon. Heart
attack, cirrhosis
of liver.
Assault, battery.
Stroke! And—
did I say over-
dose? Car

Filling up the cemeteries here.
Plastic trash here.
Unbiodegradable Styrofoam here.
Three-quarters of your seventh-
grade class now
in urns, ash and what remains
in red MAGA hats.

Those flashy cars
you’d have given your soul
to ride in,
just once, now
rusting hulks
in tall grass.
Those eyes you’d
wished might crawl
upon you like ants,
in graveyards
of broken glass.

Atwater Park where
you’d wept
in obscure shame
and now whatever
his name who’d trampled
your heart, he’s

Proud as hell
of you though
(we admit)
never read a
goddamn word
you’ve written.

We never forgave you. We hate winners.

Still, it’s not too late.
Did I say overdose?
Why otherwise are you here?


It’s a neutral day.
No sky and no atmosphere.
No emotions and no oxygen.
And no memory. And no future
beyond the plane’s broad wing.

Yet: a scissor-flash of sun
and I’m seeing again sun
beating on the strawberry patch
of my grandfather’s lost farm
as a warning pulse beats
on the underside of an eye.

Here I am kneeling in sunshine. Sunshine beating
on my bare head. None of us wore hats. On my grand-
father’s farm picking strawberries. Filling quart
baskets. Up and down the rows filling quart baskets.
ten cents a quart. Thirteen years old. Quick, deft
motions of my stained fingers. Hypnotic. Dreamy.
In stained work-clothes kneeling. In sunshine kneeling.
You pick, you reach, you reach farther, an ache between
the shoulder blades like a nail entering flesh so you
know it’s time to shift your knees, to inch forward
smelling your heated body. Pulsebeat, pain. Pulse-
beat, pain. In the next row, Linda Birkenhead and
Ginny Dunston, two older girls, are picking. Jesus,
I hate strawberries! Could puke, strawberries! Linda’s
loud hoarse voice. We’re laughing, calling to one
another, you’d think our throats would be scratched
by now, shrieking with laughter, and it’s only 10 A.M.
and we started at 7 A.M. and we’re exhausted, we’re dead,
except noisy and giggling in the shimmering heat
of June in my grandfather’s strawberry patch where rows
go on forever no beginning no end. Pulsebeat,
pain. Yet I believe I will live forever.

True pain, like grief, is for solitude only.
Not picking strawberries, ten cents a quart,
with Linda and Ginny. Not picking strawberries,
row after row, no stems, no leaves, cobwebs sticky
on my fingers in shimmering heat in June these
endless rows on my grandfather’s farm.
Only last year, these girls tormented me.
At school, they teased and chased me.
Older boys twined their fingers in my hair, why?
Dirty fingers in my hair and when I cried,
they laughed, why? First the pulsebeat, then
the pain.

Heat-haze of summer, the world’s smiling.
Unless it’s weak eyes needing glasses.
That year I’d begun to wonder how do we come
to an accurate knowledge of ourselves
my question to bear through life, unanswered.
Picking strawberries, I’m the fastest, frantic
to finish a row careless as in a race, always
to be the first, and careless, bruising fruit,
picking stems, leaves, coming to abhor the touch
of strawberries, how seeds are stippled
in the flesh, rough as a cat’s tongue and some
of the strawberries are weirdly shaped, greeny-
white and never to ripen, other strawberries
are soft-rotted from the inside, female fruit
leaking watery-runny red juice. Within hours,
a box can go bad. My grandfather hated straw-
berries, so perishable, not like apples, pears,
quince, cherries, a strawberry ripening
is a strawberry close to rot.

Kneeling in sunshine. Sunshine beating
on my bare head. And my friends Linda nd Ginny.
Who’d been so cruel. They’d hated me at school,
maybe I was too fast with my answers, maybe
too smart, and too young, now I’m like the others
dumb and suntanned and my small breasts hard
as green pears and my fingers groping quick
in the strawberry plants blinking away pain,
swallowing down nausea, no I wasn’t going to think
of how they’d tormented me, chased me, jeering
pelted me with horse chestnuts, clumps of mud,
chased me through cornfields on the Tonawanda Creek
but I’d outrun them so it was a game,
yes probably it was a game, laughing, shouting,
maybe a sign of crude liking so reasonably I might
tell myself They don’t mean harm. Not like, poking
me with an elbow in the eye, they’d mean to gouge
out the eye. For there’d come, unexpected, that day
last September, returning to school and the oldest
Birkenhead girl Linda stared at me, and smiled, and
later there was Ginny Dunston and her brother, and
others, so suddenly it was O.K. Why, don’t ask,
if the world’s suddenly O.K. don’t ask, don’t inquire
into motives for there are no motives ofr maybe
it was somthing simple: I’d grown over the summer,
I was lanky, funny, tall and suntanned and tough
and fast as ever except now it was O.K. which is why
kneeling in sunshine picking strawberries for ten cents
a quart I’m happy. I love my friends, that’s all
you want at thirteen but it’s a gift you don’t
always get. The sky is a great mirror
mirroring all-time-to-come.

Always I’ll remember how suddenly meanness
turned sweet. What ripened, and wasn’t rot.
How grateful, and how quick to smile, laugh-
ing like the others in the shimmering heat
of June, happy. Those summers of no beginnings
and no ends and one day a biographer will note
below a photograph Oates lived on her grandfather’s
farm until the age of 18. She believed she was happy.

Harlow’s Monkeys

Assume that we are not monsters for we mean well.
— Harry Harlow (1905-1981)


To be a Monkey
is to be funny

If funny
you don’t hurt

& if you don’t hurt
you don’t cry

& if you don’t cry
the noise you make is funny

& if it is funny
people can laugh

for it is all right
for people to laugh
at a Monkey

& people are happy
if people laugh

& the one thing they agree
is a monkey is funny


Oh! it is not funny
to hear a Monkey
scream for a Monkey
scream is identical
to a human scream
& a human scream is
not funny

So in the Monkey Lab
to maintain calm
Dr. Harlow had
no choice but
to “surgically remove”
Monkey vocal chords

so if there is a (Monkey) scream
not heard
how is it a scream?


We were Harlow’s Monkeys
& Dr.Harlow was our Daddy
in the famous lab
at Madison, Wisconsin
from which you did not leave

hairless bawling infants
taken from our mothers
at birth to dwell
in Harlow’s hell

“social isolation”
“maternal deprivation”

to be a Monkey
is funny
nursing the dugs
of a bare-wire doll

clinging to
a towel
draped over
a bare-wire doll

seeking milk, love
where there’s none
yet: seeking milk,
love where
there’s none.
yet: seeking

How could a Monkey
be sad, could a Monkey
spell the word—”sad”—?

In the bottom
of the Monkey cage
listless & broken
when the wire doll too
is taken away

“learned helplessness”
“pit of despair”

You laugh, for you
would never so despair
mistaking a wire doll
for a Mother
or a devil
for a Daddy


(Look: in any lab
you had
to be cruel
to publish
& succeed.
As Israel, Harry
changed his name
to Harlow, Harry
to publish
& succeed.

Just had
to be cruel
the way today
a baby calf
in its cage
to veal.)

Too Young to Marry but Not Too Young to Die

Drowned together in his car in Lake Chippewa.
It was a bright cold starry night on Lake Chippewa.
Lake Chippewa was a “living” lake then,
though soon afterward it would choke and die.
In the bright cold morning after we could spy
them only through a patch of ice brushed clear of snow.
Scarcely three feet below,
they were oblivious of us.
Together beneath the ice in each other’s arms.
Jean-Marie’s head rested on Troy’s shoulder.
Their hair had floated up and was frozen.
Their eyes were open in the perfect lucidity of death.
Calmly they sat upright. Not a breath!
It was 1967, there were no seat belts
to keep them apart. Beautiful
as mannequins in Slater Brothers’ window.
Faces flawless, not a blemish.
Yet—you could believe
they might be breath-
ing, for some trick
of scintillate light revealed
tiny bubbles in the ice,
and a motion like a smile
in Jean-Marie’s perfect face.
How far Troy’d driven the car onto Lake Chippewa
before the ice creaked, and cracked, and opened
like the parting of giant jaws—at least fifty feet!
This was a feat like his 7-foot-3.8-inch high jump.
In the briny snow you could see the car tracks
along the shore where in summer sand
we’d sprawl and soak up sun
in defiance of skin carcinomas to come. And you could see
how deftly he’d turned the wheel onto the ice
at just the right place.
And on the ice you could see
how he’d made the tires spin and grab
and Jean-Marie clutching his hand Oh oh oh!
The sinking would be silent, and slow.
Eastern edge of Lake Chippewa, shallower
than most of the lake but deep enough at twelve feet
to suck down Mr. Dupuy’s Chevy
so all that was visible from shore
was the gaping ice wound.
And then in the starry night
a drop to -5 degrees Fahrenheit
and ice freezing over the sunken car.
Who would have guessed it, of Lake Chippewa!
Now in the morning through the swept ice
there’s a shocking intimacy just below.
With our mittens we brush away powder snow.
With our boots we kick away ice chunks.
Lie flat and stare through the ice
Seeing Jean-Marie Schuter and Troy Dupuy
as we’d never seen them in life.
Our breaths steam in Sunday-morning light.
It will be something we must live with—
the couple do not care about our astonishment.
Perfect in love, and needing no one to applaud
as they’d been oblivious of our applause
at the Herkimer Junior High prom where they were
crowned Queen and King three years before.
(In Herkimer County, New York, you grew up fast.
The body matured, the brain lagged behind,
like the slowest runner on the track team
we’d applaud with affection mistaken for teen mockery.)
No one wanted to summon help just yet.
It was a dreamy silence above ice as below.
And the ice a shifting hue—silvery, ghost-gray, pale
blue—as the sky shifts overhead
like a frowning parent. What!
Lake Chippewa was where some of us went ice-fishing
with our grandfathers. Sometimes, we skated.
Summers there were speedboats, canoes. There’d been
drownings in Lake Chippewa we’d heard
but no one of ours.
Police, fire-truck, ambulance sirens would rend the air.
Strangers would shout at one another.
We’d be ordered back—off the ice of Lake Chippewa
that shone with beauty and onto the littered shore.
By harsh daylight made to see
Mr. Dupuy’s 1963 Chevy
hooked like a great doomed fish.
All that privacy yanked upward pitiless
and streaming icy rivulets!
We knew it was wrong to disturb the frozen lovers
and make of them mere bodies.
Sweet-lethal embrace of Lake Chippewa
But no embrace can survive thawing.
One of us, Gordy Garrison, would write a song,
“Too Young to Marry But Not Too Young to Die”
(echo of Bill Monroe’s “I Traced Her Little Footprints
in the Snow”), which he’d sing with his band the Raiders,
accompanying himself on the Little Martin guitar
he’d bought from his cousin Art Garrison
when Art enlisted in the U.S. Navy and for a while
it was all you’d hear at Herkimer High, where the Raiders
played for Friday-night dances in the gym, but then
we graduated and things changed and nothing more
came of Gordy’s song or of the Raiders.
was the headline in the Herkimer Packet.
We scissored out the front-page article, kept it for decades in a
bedroom drawer.
(No one ever moves in Herkimer except
those who move away, and never come back.)
The clipping is yellowed, deeply creased,
and beginning to tear. When some of us stare
at the photos our hearts cease beating—oh, just a beat!
It was something we’d learned to live with—
there’d been no boy desperate to die with any of us.
We’d have accepted, probably—yes.
Deep breath, shuttered eyes—yes, Troy.
Secret kept yellowed and creased in the drawer,
though if you ask, laughingly we’d deny it.
We see Gordy sometimes, and his wife, June. Our grand-
children are friends. Hum Gordy’s old song
to make Gordy blush a fierce apricot hue
but it seems cruel, we’re all on blood
thinners now.


the blood-smear across the knuckles:
painless, inexplicable.
once you discover it pain will begin,
in miniature.
never will you learn what caused it.
you forget it.
the telephone answered on the twelfth ring:
silence without breath, cunning, stark.
and then he hangs up.
and you stand there, alone.
then you forget.
and your father’s inexplicable visit:
two days’ notice, a ten-hour reckless drive.
rains, 80 mph winds, bad luck all the way,
traffic backed up, a broken windshield wiper,
and no stopping him.
clumsy handshakes.
How are—?
You seem—!
How good to —!
How long will—?
he must leave in the morning,
must get back.
a gas station two blocks away repairs the wiper.
did he sense death,
and so he raced to us?
did he already guess at his death
behind those nervous fond smiles,
the tumult of memories he had to bear?
nothing we know can explain his visit,
or the new, strange way he moved among us—
touching us, squeezing our arms, smiling.
the visit was an excuse.
the words that surrounded our touching were an excuse.
inexplicable, that the language we invent may be a means
to get us closer, to allow us to touch one another,
and then to back away.

An Age of Miracles

He walked to the window
stared down twenty stories to the street
gaseous and dizzy as a swamp
not visible at this height
but there had been a street down there
and he knew
It came with the apartment
and the guarded foyers and halls
and the doorman
beneath the uniform
the television split-screening
front and rear entrances
He knew it was all there
and he was here twenty stories above
the unsetteled swamp-mist
he knew the trucks bound for the bridge
were still passing near
he could feel them rumbling
in the soles of his feet
so he knew
the floor he walked on
was someone’s ceiling
and it was all normal tonight
and countable
a two-year lease because
a desirable
with full view of
a five-by-three balcony through the door is
$200 deposit
fully carpeted
self-defrosting refriger-
the balcony door is stuck but
He can stare twenty stories down
from the windowsill
watching the swamp smokes curl and thin
and the swamp lapping at the base
and the unpaid-for miracle
one inch at a time