“Blues” by Elizabeth Alexander
I am lazy, the laziest
girl in the world. I sleep during
the day when I want to, ’til
my face is creased and swollen,
’til my lips are dry and hot. I
eat as I please: cookies and milk
after lunch, butter and sour cream
on my baked potato, foods that
slothful people eat, that turn
yellow and opaque beneath the skin.
Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday
I am still in my nightgown, the one
with the lace trim listing because
I have not mended it. Many days
I do not exercise, only
consider it, then rub my curdy
belly and lie down. Even
my poems are lazy. I use
syllabics instead of iambs,
prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme,
write briefly while others go
for pages. And yesterday,
for example, I did not work at all!
I got in my car and I drove
to factory outlet stores, purchased
stockings and panties and socks
with my father’s money.
To think, in childhood I missed only
one day of school per year. I went
to ballet class four days a week
at four-forty-five and on
Saturdays, beginning always
with plie, ending with curtsy.
To think, I knew only industry,
the industry of my race
and of immigrants, the radio
tuned always to the station
that said, Line up your summer
job months in advance. Work hard
and do not shame your family,
who worked hard to give you what you have.
There is no sin but sloth. Burn
to a wick and keep moving.
I avoided sleep for years,
up at night replaying
evening news stories about
nearby jailbreaks, fat people
who ate fried chicken and woke up
dead. In sleep I am looking
for poems in the shape of open
V’s of birds flying in formation,
or open arms saying, I forgive you, all.
Every year, the word that comes to my mind at the beginning of summer is decadent. All that time is piled up on the floor and we just roll around in it. We leave our pajamas on until it’s time to put on our bathing suits. We drink coffee all day. We spend an inordinate amount of time planning meals that end up being grilled meat wrapped around more meat. It is glorious. I know how lucky we are, and I revel in it.
So it’s probably not a surprise that I generally suffer from end-of-summer blues at the beginning of August. The darkest, bluest of blues. My heart sinks when the school supply signs appear, and it gets difficult to enjoy the last weeks of summer. People say, “Are you ready to go back?” and I feel that I should say yes. The truth is that I am the laziest girl in the world. I wish I could live like this forever.
But not this year. This year I was too busy having fun to let my usual dread kick in. This year, I am looking forward to a few new things I am going to try in the library. This year, I feel positive about Atticus returning to school and getting more structure and learning new things. This year I am excited about going back in ways I’ve never been before.
Instead of seeing work as my real life and summer as a pretend fantasy time, it has started to feel integrated in new ways.
I have end-of-summer blues, but they are of the lighter variety. Carolina blue, you might say. The blue of the summer sky. The blue in Atticus’s eyes.