The Gentleman Recommends: Louise Glück

While many adults look at babies and understandably, given the convenience of diapers and the plentiful milk, envy their lifestyle, I think back to the frustrations of being unable to make larger, older humans understand me and also how uncomfortable it is to be trapped in a garment filled with waste, and so must declare, despite all the free milk, that I much prefer not being a baby. Sure, adults underuse mobiles and are rarely praised for properly using a toilet, but at least we have the agency to choose to diminish the joy in our lives by not hanging mobiles above our sleep stations, and there is nothing stopping us from asking our families and trusted colleagues to appreciate our toilet expertise.

Marigold and Rose by Louise Gluck book cover

If you’re unconvinced that being a baby is hard, ask a baby about it. No matter how many times you ask, you will not get an answer you can parse until (unless a parent or guardian cuts the interview short) the baby starts crying, which finally serves as a parsable answer to the query: “Yes,” they might as well be wailing, “being a baby is hard in large part because it is so frustrating not to be able to make one’s self understood.”

If the parents or guardians you know keep too close an eye on their babies, you can get a sense of the difficulties of being a baby by reading “Marigold and Rose” by Louise Glück. You know Glück because of her brilliant poetry, and now you can know her because of her brilliant fiction. “Marigold and Rose” is called “a fiction” on the cover because it is much too short to be a novel: it can be read (more than once) in an hour, which gives the reader plenty of time to read some of her poetry, too.

Glück sidesteps the limitations of a baby’s vocabulary by translating the babies’ thoughts into adult words, but the feel of the babies’ interior lives shines through. The titular babies are twins and like many babies, one of them wants to write a novel and is frustrated that they can’t because they can’t read or write. Here are some of her thoughts on her work-in-progress, which might indicate if this is the sort of fiction you’d like to read:

But the book was very slow because the twins didn’t do anything. They lay in their cribs, behind bars like criminals. Sometimes they went to the park. They liked the infant swings. They liked the slide too, but only if Father kept them sitting up, one hand on their backs and one hand on their fronts. But the sliding the twins did. They also used real spoons. They could both drink out of cups. They could crawl and stand up if they had something to hold on to. Rose could say “bear.” Would people who could read be interested in this?

I was interested in this. It was fun to be reminded what it was like to be a baby, even with the painful reminders of my infancy’s thwarted authorial ambitions. If you’d prefer to be reminded what it’s like to be a plant, try this book of poetry. Indeed, even if you’re not keen to relive the first confusing months of your life, or to be a plant, read her poetry.

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