Privilege of Being

by Robert Hass

Many are making love. Up above, the angels in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing are braiding one another’s hair, which is strawberry blond and the texture of cold rivers. They glance down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy— it must look to them like featherless birds splashing in the spring puddle of a bed— and then one woman, she is about to come, peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says, look at me, and he does. Or is it the man tugging the curtain rope in the dark theater? Anyway, they do, they look at each other; two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious, startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet lubricious glue, stare at each other, and the angels are desolate. They hate it. They shudder pathetically like lithographs of Victorian beggars with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags in the lewd alleys of the novel. All of creation is offended by this distress. It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes, rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it, it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that they close their eyes again and hold each other, each feeling the mortal singularity of the body they have enchanted out of death for an hour or so, and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man, I woke up feeling so sad this morning because I realized that you could not, as much as I love you, dear heart, cure my loneliness, wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth. And the man is not hurt exactly, he understands that his life has limits, that people die young, fail at love, fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks of the sadness they have gasped and crooned their way out of coming, clutching each other with old, invented forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely companionable like the couples on the summer beach reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes to themselves, and to each other, and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.  

From HUMAN WISHES (Ecco Press, 1989)