“Actuarial File”

By Jean Valentine b. 1934 Jean Valentine
Orange peels, burned letters, the car lights shining on the grass,
everything goes somewhere—and everything we do—nothing
ever disappears. But changes. The roar of the sun in photographs.
Inching shorelines. Ice lines. The cells of our skin; our meetings,
our solitudes. Our eyes.

A bee careens at the window here; flies out, released: a life
without harm, without shame.       That woman, my friend,
circling against her life, a married life; that man, my friend,
solitary, anarchic, driving away from home; them driving, to each
other—

I know, the hard, half-lost, knowing will; the cold first loneliness
again, outside the commonweal, unmoving;

But to say, I know—is there any touch in it?

         The words in my dream: “actuarial file.” Actuary, 1. A registrar or
         notary, who keeps records of the acts of a court ...

To be there; to listen; not invade. Another solitude ...

I watch her face. The lines of will, kindness, hunger. Silence. She
moves from one thing to another thing in the kitchen, looks out
the window at the other apartment windows ... A woman moves
around, across the courtyard, making supper. How many people is
she making supper for? Now the woman waters the plants. What
is she thinking about. Her head, her arm, look peaceful ...

Everything that happens, happens once and for all. Is this true?
If so, what then?”

Yes. Your story; all of your hope; what you do, breaks. Changes.
“If so, what then?” Nothing disappears. And you do last;

The words in the open page of her notebook, I'm so cold. My
head hurts.

Come stay here, at my place, a while.—Someday we will be able
to say, I did this thing; I did that other thing; I was that woman.
Someday, we will be able to take it in, that violence, hold it in our
hands ... And the ones who come after us, maybe they can
understand us; forgive us; as we do forgive our parents, our
grandparents, moving so distantly through their lives ... their
silences ...
And the ones we were with      maybe our friendship can change,
can mend ...

Come stay here. Things change ...

She stays home;

Not to invade       Wait, here, in the quiet

Jean Valentine, “ ‘Actuarial File’ ” from Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003. Copyright © 2004 by Jean Valentine. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems 1965-2003 (2004)

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Poet Jean Valentine b. 1934

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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