The Woman Who Couldn’t Describe A Thing If She Could by Mary Ruefle

We are looking forward to announcing our 2022 programming soon! In the meantime, we wanted to start the year by sharing this poem, published in Issue No. 216 of The Paris Review, Spring 2016.

We have a house. There is a roof and there are windows. I think they are square. You can see through them, that’s for sure. There is a door to go into and out of the house. It works both ways. And oh, a floor.

We left the house in a car. The car had wheels, there were four of them. And there was a door we used to go into and out of the car. Actually, there were four doors, there were four of us, too, so we each had our own door. Inside there was only room to sit down and a strap that went across your body in case there was an accident.

An accident is when something happens that is not supposed to happen and you don’t want it to but it does anyway. We did not have an accident that day. We went to a restaurant instead.

The car stayed outside the restaurant and we stayed inside the restaurant. A restaurant is a place that will cook for you. You give them money for the cooking. Or for the eating, I am unsure which.

You probably already know this, but eating is when the food goes inside your body. Later, it comes out a different door in another way. (When I said the car had four doors, I forgot number five, the little door where the gas goes in.)

So we four were in the restaurant. Some of the food was good and some of the food was bad, but it costs the same. As you eat, you have a conversation. A conversation is talking between people. One person said, I am tired of the heat, and another said, Me too. I said, I kind of like it. The last of us said, Could we talk about something other than the weather? I thought that was an interesting thing to say.

A thought is silent talking to yourself in your head. But you can still hear it. This is the number-one difference.

After the eating and the conversation, one of us gave money for these things. You just hand it over, and for a moment you can see it, it is moving from one hand to another hand and you can see it, it is paper. But it is not usually shown, most of the time you keep your money out of sight. It is hardly ever in the air. It is not like a necklace or something. But at such and such a time, you take it out and give some of it away. You never give your necklace away. All the same, a necklace is a sign of money. It just is. You show the sign that you have things hidden. It goes back and forth, like a conversation.

Two of us were wearing necklaces and two of us were not. That is a fact I added together later, so you would know.

We left the restaurant by the door. There was the car. In the car we did not have a conversation. We left the car when it was looking at the house.

Inside the house there was an accident. Accidents happen so fast you never really see them, so no one can really talk about them. After the accident, there was another conversation. It was longer than the conversation we had in the restaurant, even though there were four of us in the restaurant and now there were only three.

Then it was time for bed. A bed is where you sleep. If you have a necklace, you take it off. Both you and the necklace change from an upright position to a downright position. But not together.

You close your eyes, which have been open all day. You close your mouth, which has been open all day. You think about the day. You have the whole day all to yourself. Then you begin to see things inside your head which you did not put there. It is very dark outside your head and you cannot see much there, but you can see the put things inside your head. When that happens, you know you are asleep. You might not know it, but you are.

You are asleep. The day is done. You can’t describe it anymore. That’s life. It’s over.

Read more by Mary Ruefle here.

Cover image via Anita Calero Photography.