Cover image for The probable world
The probable world
Raab, Lawrence, 1946-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin, 2000.
Physical Description:
3 pages, 78 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library PS3568.A2 P76 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Stephen Dunn called Lawrence Raab's last book "a superb collection . . . Raab's poems evoke a world both recognizable and dreamlike, a world of slippery realities told from self-questioning perspectives." With this collection, Raab has surpassed his earlier accomplishments.His concerns range from dreams to space aliens, from the death of Shelley to the nature of friendship, from Hamlet to high school. Figured in landscapes both real and imagined--the probable worlds of our lives--these elegant poems form a meditation on what separates the actual from the possible. Of his previous collection, the National Book Award judges wrote, "Not often in today's poetry has our mortal circumstance become so magical." In his new book, the quiet clarity of Raab's voice moves calmly into the large, unanswerable mysteries of being--what our lives might become, or could have been but never were.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

A poet of the free-verse epiphany, Raab indulges a safely distant fascination with bitterness and death in this fifth collection: "Think of the truck out of control/ on the thruway, or the bridge/ about to collapse. Think of the terrorist/ planting his bomb./ Not one of us is spared such imaginings." The estranged tone is best when tempered with humor: "Watching a couple of crows/ playing around in the woods, swooping/ in low after each other, I wonder/ if they ever slam into trees." But sometimes it works terrifically on its own; "Love" begins "In a sudden rage a man kills his wife" and the terrible TV verit‚ of such a juxtaposition drives the poem, as it develops, ad absurdum: "How can he kill himself in front of his dog?" Unfortunately, such moments are not the norm here. "Big Ideas" never capitalizes on its first line, "I read the papers and think about hatred"; instead we are given the finale "We watch the news, we read the papers,/ afraid, sometimes, of what we understand." The rest of this probable world contains "Great Art," "Bad Music," "Big Ideas," "My Spiritual Days" and a host of other potentially volatile subjects, but the narrator is unwilling to follow them out on their respective limbs. Raab's What We Don't Know About Each Other was an NBA finalist in 1992. With conventional free-verse stanzas that are neither formally demanding nor linguistically playful, and with only occasionally compelling narrative motifs, this isn't the one to read first. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One     WHY THE TRUTH IS HIDDEN First, I'd like to thank God, said the pilot, shot down and rescued. Later after the big game the best player says it again, and the announcer nods. It's right for the winners to be grateful, and useful for their thanks to sound like modesty, since America doesn't like a man who's good at what he does and wants to talk about it. And the losers? They know His ways are dark, His path difficult. They understand justice isn't always what it seems, or else they couldn't, who've lost the most, bear it. Surely God was wise not to speak to us anymore. After all, what did that accomplish? Endless arguments about who knows who's right. Centuries of murder. Every religion, Pascal said, that does not affirm that God is hidden is not true. That's what, in His disappointment, He must have decided. Stay back, keep quiet, let them come to you.     LOVE In a sudden rage a man kills his wife. Then he drives back to his house. There's no getting away from this, he thinks. He hadn't tried to hide anything. The police will show up soon. He has a gun, so he tells himself he should do it now, outside on the lawn. Or he could get back in the car, drive around for a while. It's hard to decide. His dog is out there, certain something is wrong. No, he's not going to shoot the dog. His heart's already broken, knowing he's killed his wife whom he still believes he loved, knowing now he's a man who could do that kind of thing. The dog comes over to him. He thinks the dog wants to help and it breaks his heart again to feel he'd been kinder to his dog than his wife, or at least kind enough to deserve this trust, this affection. Love? he thinks. Would that be going too far? He walks inside, sits down, puts the gun in his mouth. But the dog scratches at the door, keeps on scratching until he gets up, lets her in, half-aware he's made a choice. How can he kill himself in front of his dog? He strokes her head. Good girl, he says, and then other things no one says to a dog. If only she would go to another room. But she won't leave, and no matter what he tells her, she refuses to be comforted.     RESPECT A latticework of trees at dusk, silhouettes of sky shading upwards into the darkest blue. I'm thinking of Frost stepping out of his cabin to watch the snow falling, evening coming down. I've seen the place, walked around the chair he wrote in, felt a suitable respect. I've seen the film his publishers made where he wanders off to chop some wood as if that was what he always did before beginning a poem. When in fact ... But why should we care about that? So what if he was a terrible man. So what if Philip Larkin hated everybody, and wrote his friends to say how much he hated his other friends, and finally all the world except, perhaps, the Queen. He knew how to keep it from his work. I'd like to believe he found a place that mattered among those words, but what do I know? For him it may have mattered less and less. What's to be done with all the rubbish of a life when you know so little can be made memorable? They got famous and mean. They were rude at parties and lost their friends, or couldn't be sure if they had or not. They got old and were afraid. Now I'm imagining Frost opening the door to see snow coming down fast into that field, and thinking of nothing new to say. But by then the world should look the way you've written it. So what if the world changes. So what if you suspect, late at night when you can't drink yourself any closer to sleep, that all your bitterness adds up to nothing but more bitterness, and those few books are what you used to be. So what if that's sad, and it is. So what if there's no other way to end.     AMERICAN LIGHT In those days a traveler prepared himself to be astonished. There were wonders in every direction--the mountains stupendous , the precipices lofty , the waters profoundly deep . No one settled for anything less than the sublime. Don't fool yourself. You also would have cherished the Idea of Nature, how inside it a better self lives to repair whatever might befall you-- any calamity, any disgrace. This is the world without encumbrance, that famous light trembling across it. Consider the hush of the storm on the far horizon, that abandoned boat by the shore. And further west-- woods of the dimmest shade , the solitude utter and unbroken . Now you've climbed some great cliff. You're feeling like a new man, overwhelmed by everything you can see, certain this world will never fail you.     A SMALL LIE 1 The reporter expected the place would be "sinister beyond words," and it wasn't. It seemed "harmless." The barracks were painted "a pleasant soft green." So many rooms, emptied of their cries, turn into dingy schools, the bunkhouses of a summer camp ... Decades later, the guard they captured was a frail old man, who claimed he'd been somewhere else, working at a desk. When the survivors recognized him, he said they'd made a terrible mistake. "Do you know what this is?" the mugger asked my friend, showing him a gun, and after he'd taken his money he said, "You know, I wasn't going to hurt you." Many had been told they were just going off to work. How could they have believed it? 2 But now we think we've learned something about evil--how it likes to appear ordinary, like anybody's grandfather. Sometimes the kid next door buys a rifle and kills his family. The neighbors are shocked, then admit he'd always been quiet and a little strange. Now they can see it, how he wasn't like the others, their own sons and daughters. "I saw him coming," my friend was saying, "and I should have turned away. But I kept walking." And as he walked he told himself a small lie-- Of course this isn't going to happen --which was what he'd told himself many times before, when it had been the truth.     DREAMING OF THE AFTERLIFE When I saw my father I was looking through the windows of my sixth-grade classroom. Out where the playground would have been my father was walking with a friend I didn't recognize, though I understood (as we understand such things in dreams) he was a friend, and both of them were dead. I knew I wasn't being summoned, but I went outside, and my father stopped. He said he'd planned to visit me the next day. There were many people he wanted to see. And then he told me I had done a good job. Meaning the funeral, I thought, all the arrangements. I could tell he hadn't found the right words and now he wouldn't, since I'd appeared like this. And I remember how his friend stepped back when my father spoke, and turned away to allow us our privacy, even if that wasn't really necessary.     ALL DAY Others cannot escape their subjects. History, injustice, whole countries gone begging for a song. For them: the silence of high places, the risks of an open field, and that shattering light in which a man might find a way beyond himself, each new burden becoming another piece of luck.                        Who can be content with the sadness of the past? Here: the bright swerve and rise of a small fire, the smell of woodsmoke--I knew what I'd be reminded of, how many rooms and nights would appear, how the word sadness would have to be resisted.            Just beyond this house with its curling tendril of smoke there's a meadow in which deer gather, eating their way through the afternoon. When a dog barks they look up, wait, and return. Birds continue to sing.                   Somewhere heroic deeds have already been performed, significant acts of betrayal. In the squares of besieged cities the wounded are still crying out. Some ask for help, but others beg their friends to stay away, the shells keep falling, and truly nothing can be done.                       So all day passes, until at evening the field seems empty, the dog is asleep, the fire is ash, soft and delicate. You might even kneel down and touch it.     THE LOST THINGS In the attic or cellar, back in some drawer, way back on the top shelf of somebody's closet were the stamp albums and the baseball cards, both cap pistols in their leather holsters. In our house nothing was actually lost, even if we didn't know where to look. So those guns rusted, and the pages of books turned brown. No one had taken proper care, but that wasn't the point. Permanence was never the point. Instead: the desire not to feel regret. When the time came, the house up for sale, every closet open to inspection, I took what I thought I wanted, even if not to decide was what I wanted, to leave things in their places, let the pictures crack and the mice chew at the spines of the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift and His Submarine, Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship, Tom Swift in the Caves of Nuclear Fire. Not selling them or throwing them away, not saving them either. The way we think anything can be remembered, if memory is like opening the right drawer or taking a box down from a high shelf for no particular reason. (Continues...)

Google Preview