National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry month and I thought I’d share a poem that has taken on more meaning to me recently. I have always admired Lisel Mueller’s poem, “Money Refuses the Operation” and I found myself thinking about it when I recently hurt my left eye.

I wear contact lenses and I store them at night in a special cleaning chemical that neutralizes and turns into saline solution by morning. In Ecuador, there aren’t the same consumer protection laws and so the bottle of this special solution does not have a big red ring around it like my brand in the United States. Last week I put that solution directly in my eye instead of using saline solution and let me just tell you, it’s not a good idea. Besides being extremely painful, it’s rather difficult to extract a contact lens from your eye when you’re instinct is to clamp your eye shut.

Luckily, Peace Corps has doctors and nurses on stand-by to help in such emergencies. Paul got on the telephone and was able to get instructions for how to treat and later medicate my sore and swollen eye. After resting for several days, my eye is as good as new. However, I was recuperating for several days. As I lay in bed with my eyes covered, I thought a lot about Monet and his refusal.

I walked around without lenses and with only the use of one eye for several days and what I experienced was a different world. Since it gave me headaches, I didn’t spend too much time walking around with just one eye open but I thought it was important to attend the Mujeres Cambia meeting so I did venture out for that.

Outside, colors seemed brighter as details faded. I noticed the outlines of shapes, I noticed sounds more, I noticed the way the sun felt on my back. While I would never wish a mishap like the one I experienced on anyone, I would recommend attempting to interact with the world in a new way. You might find that tuning out the details and imperfections you see may add to the beauty to the world around you.

Monet Refuses the Operation


Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Lisel Mueller, “Monet Refuses the Operation” from Second Language. Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller.


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One response to “National Poetry Month”

  1. Clare's mom says :

    I’m sorry about the injury to your eye and glad that it rather quickly healed–and glad, as well, for the new vision the experience granted you!
    Thanks for passing along Mueller’s beautiful poem!

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