Louise Gluck, “Cousins”
by Charlotte Shane
When I consider my friends I’m overcome with pride. They are accomplished, interesting women who are also funny, empathetic, and inspiring. And yet among those who gravitate towards men, few have partners.
This is both by choice — we’re all reaching an age at which we’re unwilling to compromise — and by circumstantial compulsion. Why aren’t there more men who are willing and able to match them in professional success, ambition, intelligence, kindness? If not romantically, then platonically?
This poem by Louise Gluck slices to the lonely heart of female excellence with such a sharp blade, I hesitated to share it with the woman it most reminds me of. “She’s used to playing by herself” — did my friend need someone else to articulate that? I’d witnessed firsthand how relentless her energy is, her persistence in hitting the metaphorical softballs. I know she knows she has no rivals. I’m almost loath to praise my friends to their faces sometimes — the genius single mother who works harder than I can fathom, the trailblazer whose brilliant writing barely pays — because they are very familiar with the ways in which they’re strong, yet their assets have become their thorns. What does it mean to become great in the face of circumstances you resent? How do you celebrate your power when it’s come out of a painful reality beyond your control?
After some deliberation, I did send it, because the greatest support we can offer each other now may not be cheerleading or praise. The refrains of “girl power” and “empowered women” are part of our blood, too natural to need acknowledging, and almost insulting to articulate given our obvious strengths. What I want to provide my friends with now is recognition. If we must be alone, let us not be unseen.