Next Day (transcript)

Kay Bonetti Callison: My name is Kay Callison, Kay Bonetti Callison, some of you know me as Kay Bonetti. I live in Columbia, Missouri. Anyway, when I was looking for my favorite poem, when I was recruited to do this here, I realized I didn’t have a favorite poem, you know, I, several poems that I just kind of carry around with me in my heart. And this was one of the first I came to.

I first encountered this poem, “Next Day,” by Randall Jarrell, when I was in graduate school and we were all very Bohemian, and we used to, in the ’60s, and we would sit around and read poetry to one another. And when I first heard this poem, it was read by the wife of a friend of mine, and the guys were all saying, “Oh, yeah, cool, Randall Jarrell,” you know. And this woman and I looked at each other, I think we were the only two women in the room, it was just this shock of recognition in this poem.

And when I went back to it, I’ve carried it, lines from it and images from it, over the years, and when I went back and sat down to read it, to think about reading it today, I thought, whoa, it’s so sad, you know? But now that I’m of an age that’s closer to the speaker of this poem, it’s just uncanny, the things in it that I identify with now. I’m not as sad as this woman, I don’t feel lost and confused in the way she does, really, but the fact of the matter is, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And even though this is very much a woman of the ’50s speaking, even now, in the ’80s and ’90s, you have maybe a good job, respect in your career, you have a wonderful husband as I do, who thinks you’re exciting, there’s still this messed-up way that this culture looks at aging and women. Especially women and aging. And that’s what hit me so about this poem. And this woman’s having a really bad day and I hope she has a better day tomorrow.

“Next Day”

Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Food-gathering flocks
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,

Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I’ve become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.

When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I’d wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I’m old, my wish
Is womanish:
That the boy putting groceries in my car

See me. It bewilders me he doesn’t see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile

Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home. Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind

Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water—
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don’t know…Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,

My husband away at work—I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them. As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:

I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate. Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: “You’re old.” That’s all, I’m old.

And yet I’m afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend’s cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me

How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I’m anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.