The poem I’ve just read has the narrator reading a newspaper, “letting fall” the pages she has finished with, that rustle and crackle as they are shed. It’s a scene to stir nostalgia, as many of us now no longer perform this daily ritual, getting our news online instead. I miss the thoroughness and fullness of the daily hour spent with the newspaper.
And the narrator of the poem feels a different sort of nostalgia: she is doing exactly as her ex-husband did, as she never did while they were married, content to be, through her husband, at one remove from “the earth’s gossip.” And we see her now in “that sitting waltz,” shedding and folding pages, as she sees herself: engaged in a strange dance that is not quite her own. She cannot help but see herself from outside, the way she would see her husband doing the same, day after day.
After he left she made a vow to read the paper every day. But why? “… If only I had read / the paper …” she says. It’s some kind of bargaining, as if by participating in this alien ritual she could go back in time and make things right. Nostalgia is painful and harmful when we can find happiness only in what is past, and make nothing of the present moment. When you are grieving a loss, for a while you can only look back.
“Count me as a reader of the earth’s gossip,” she says. And for all the dance may look strange and awkward in those lucid moments where she looks across at herself and sees the one she has lost, this dance for now is hers, who she is, and an indication of the new person she is becoming, incorporating and transforming a past that will once again be her own.
(I’ve been reading “On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult”, a poem by Sharon Olds. Her Stag’s Leap was published in 2012 by Cape Poetry.)