Collected Poems

By Jack Gilbert; Published In 2012
Genres: Poetry, Nonfiction
But one can acquire a taste for love as for loneliness or ugliness as for saintliness. Each a special way of going down.

HAPPENING APART FROM WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND IT There is a vividness to eleven years of love because it is over. A clarity of Greece now because I live in Manhattan or New England. If what is happening is part of what’s going on around what’s occurring, it is impossible to know what is truly happening. If love is part of the passion, part of the fine food or the villa on the Mediterranean, it is not clear what the love is. When I was walking in the mountains with the Japanese man and began to hear the water, he said, “What is the sound of the waterfall?” “Silence,” he finally told me. The stillness I did not notice until the sound of water falling made apparent the silence I had been hearing long before. I ask myself what is the sound of women? What is the word for that still thing I have hunted inside them for so long? Deep inside the avalanche of joy, the thing deeper in the dark, and deeper still in the bed where we are lost. Deeper, deeper down where a woman’s heart is holding its breath, where something very far away in that body is becoming something we don’t have a name for.

How could they think women a recreation? Or the repetition of bodies of steady interest? Only the ignorant or the busy could.

It is convenient for the old men to blame Eve. To insist we are damned because a country girl talked to the snake one afternoon long ago. Children must starve in Somalia for that, and old women be abandoned in our greatest cities. It’s why we will finally be thrown into the lakes of molten lead. Because she was confused by happiness that first time anyone said she was beautiful. Nevertheless, she must be the issue, so people won’t notice that rocks and galaxies, mathematics and rust are also created in His image.

It is foolish for Rubens to show her simpering. They were clearly guilty and did her much sorrow.

I would say Pittsburgh softly each time before throwing him up. Whisper Pittsburgh with my mouth against the tiny ear and throw him higher. Pittsburgh and happiness high up. The only way to leave even the smallest trace. So that all his life her son would feel gladness unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined city of steel in America. Each time almost remembering something maybe important that got lost.

MEELEE’S AWAY (after Waley)     Meelee’s away in Lima.     No one breeds flowers in my head. Of course, women do breed flowers in my head     but not like Meelee’s—     So fragile, so pale.

Once she said the world was an astonishing animal: light was its spirit and noise was its mind. That it was composed to feed on honor, but did not.

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods. Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt. But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down but the angel flies up again taking us with her.

Poetry is a kind of lying, necessarily. To profit the poet or beauty. But also in that truth may be told only so. Those who, admirably, refuse to falsify (as those who will not risk pretensions) are excluded from saying even so much. Degas said he didn’t paint what he saw, but what would enable them to see the thing he had.

The Japanese think it strange we paint our old wooden houses when it takes so long to find the wabi in them. They prefer the bonsai tree after the valiant blossoming is over, the leaves fallen. When bareness reveals a merit born in the vegetable struggling.

The woman is not just a pleasure, nor even a problem. She is a meniscus that allows the absolute to have a shape, that lets him skate however briefly on the mystery, her presence luminous on the ordinary and the grand. Like the odor at night in Pittsburgh’s empty streets after summer rain on maples and sycamore.

The women at Dachau knew they were about to be gassed when they pushed back the Nazi guard who wanted to die with them, saying he must live. And sang for a little while after the doors closed.

Walking in the dark streets of Seoul under the almost full moon. Lost for the last two hours. Finishing a loaf of bread and worried about the curfew. I have not spoken for three days and I am thinking, “Why not just settle for love? Why not just settle for love instead?

We are a singularity that makes music out of noise because we must hurry. We make a harvest of loneliness and desiring in the blank wasteland of the cosmos.

We are surrounded by the absurd excess of the universe. By meaningless bulk, vastness without size, power without consequence. The stubborn iteration that is present without being felt. Nothing the spirit can marry. Merely phenomenon and its physics. An endless, endless of going on. No habitat where the brain can recognize itself. No pertinence for the heart. Helpless duplication.

We think the fire eats the wood. We are wrong. The wood reaches out to the flame. The fire licks at what the wood harbors, and the wood gives itself away to that intimacy, the manner in which we and the world meet each new day.

What can I do with these people? They come to the risk so dutifully. Are delighted by anecdotes that give them Poetry. Are grateful to be told of diagonals that give them Painting. Good people. But stubborn when warned the beast is not domestic. How can I persuade them that the dark, soulful Keats was five feet one? Liked fighting and bear-baiting? I can’t explain the red hair. Nor say how you died so full of lust for Fanny Brawne. I will tell them of Semele.

When I was walking in the mountains with the Japanese man and began to hear the water, he said, 'What is the sound of the waterfall?' 'Silence,' he finally told me.