Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

Claudia Rankine

Life is a form of hope?

If you are hopeful.

Maybe hope is the same as breath — part of
What it means to be human and alive.

Or maybe hoping is the same as waiting.
It can be futile.

Waiting for what?

For a life to begin.

I am here.

And I am still lonely.

Much of this book of prose poetry (or lyric essay, if you believe in that genre) is so then-presently-placed in its early-aughts political moments that it can feel a little dated, if only because they are portrayed in a “current events” manner, yet many of them feel so distant to recall. It jostled my head to read about Timothy McVeigh’s execution and Saddam Hussein’s capture, and then realize this book doesn’t know that Hussein was executed as well — that parallel hadn’t happened yet. But in more personal moments, that same focus creates a certain poignancy that elevates the feelings to a more universal level.

It occurs to me that forty could be half my life or it could be all my life. On the television I am told I don’t want to look like I am forty. Forty means I might have seen something hard, something unpleasant, or something dead. I might have seen it and lived beyond it in time. Or I might have squinted my eyes too many times in order to see it, I might have turned my face to the sun in order to look away. I might have actually been alive. With injections of Botox, short for botulism toxin, it seems I can see or be seen without being seen; I can age without aging. I have the option of worrying without looking like I worry. Each day of this life I could bite or shake doubt as if to injure or kill without looking as if anything mattered to me. I could paralyze facial muscles that cause wrinkles. All those worry and frown lines would disappear. I could purchase paralysis. I could choose that. Eventually the paralysis would sink in, become a deepening personality that need not, like Enron’s “distorting factors,” distort my appearance. I could be all that seems, or rather I could be all that I am — fictional. Ultimately I could face reality undisturbed by my own mortality.

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