We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.

* * *
Jack Gilbert spends much of his time burrowing at the root of things, in those spaces where life–or the life within life–really happens. This poem is no exception. His poems are more easily felt, I think, than heard, whatever that means. What we have, what we’ve been given, is right there before us, and we must insist on it–to speak, to be. Meaning, fulfillment–these are not found someplace else, in some other city. If they are anywhere at all, they are right in front of us.

There is a wonderful interview with Gilbert on NPR worth listening to if you have the time:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5370284.



One leaf fell,
a second
and a third.
A fish swam on the moon.
The water sleeps for only an hour,
but the white sea sleeps for a hundred.
There was a dead lady
in the branch of the tree.
The nun in her habit
sang inside the pomegranate.
This girl of mine
reached the pinecone from the pine.
And the pine went along
to look for the tiny feather’s song.
But the wounded nightingale cried
throughout the countryside.
And I did too,
because the first leaf fell,
a second
and a third.
And a head of crystal
and a paper fiddle.
And the snow could make its way in the world,
if the snow slept for a month,
and the branches wrestled with the world,
one by one,
two by two
and three by three.
Oh, the hard ivory of invisible flesh!
Oh, the dawn’s abyss with no ants!
With the swish of the trees,
with the sighs of the ladies,
with the croaking of frogs
and the honey’s yellow glug.
A shadow’s torso will arrive,
wearing a laurel crown.
For the wind, the sky will
be as hard as a wall
and all the drowned branches
will leave as they dance.
One by one
around the moon,
two by two
around the sun,
and three by three
so the ivory can sleep.

My father is sleeping. His noble face
suggests a mild heart;
he is so sweet now . . .
if anything bitter is in him, I must be the bitterness.

There is loneliness in the parlor; they are praying;
and there is no news of the children today.
My father wakes, he listens
for the flight into Egypt, the good-bye that dresses wounds.
Now he is so near;
if anything distant is in him, I must be the distance

And my mother walks past in the orchard,
savoring a taste already without savor.
Now she is so gentle,
so much wing, so much farewell, so much love.

There is loneliness in the parlor with no sound,
no news, no greenness, no childhood.
And if something is broken this afternoon,
and if something descends or creaks,
it is two old roads, curving and white.
Down them my heart is walking on foot.

* * *

I like what James Wright said about Vallejo in a letter to Anne Sexton, 1961: “For my part, I would not trade one single poem by Vallejo or Miguel Hernandez for everything published in American poetry since Robinson died…The rest is good sometimes, more or less, but I would rather shoot a game of pool.”

Bird (Pablo Neruda)

June 10, 2008

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air –
and there, night came in.

When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography –
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.

* * *
If Neruda was aware of anything, it was the “gift of the day.” He saw how news of it passed from one bird to another like a conversation of which none are excluded, not even birds, not even stones. It seems to me the entirety of Neruda’s poetry is about this conversation, this singing of one creature, one object, to another. It is as if the newly lit creation each morning celebrates wildly its good news, whispering, one to another, “pass it on.”

—for Anne, December 2006
& Pablo Neruda

Listen. Listen to this house.

Thin bones of winter light
seep through a membrane
of cold.

The yellow daisy
in the vase
sucks air from a dry lung.

Listen to this house.

Squash aches in a blue bowl
for the sun and shadow
of your face.

The floor holds a long breath
your tiny slippers.

Listen to this house.

Lost in a shell
of days and days
without you.

Waiting for you
to breathe this cold moon
to life.

* * *
Art Joyce is the poster boy of popular Canadian poetry, an arts activist, publisher, historian, you name it. He’s also got a handlebar mustache, or used to, which I can’t decide whether or not is annoying or endearing. In any case, I like this poem because of its acknowledgment of that life present in all houses. I have always been fascinated with the idea that we can know ourselves, know others, by listening to a house. That we see something of ourselves in the arrangement of things, in the clutter, the paint, the dusty windows. I like too how sundry objects remind the poet of his lover, how they continue to converse with the listener, as if out of their very color or substance they want to speak out.

Creeley is perhaps the modern master of the house poem. He knew the conversations that took place there, especially the ones without words, ones that could:

…put it all right,
given time,
and need, and money,

make this place sing,
the rooms open
and warm, and spring
come in at the windows

with the breeze—
the white blossom
of apple
still make this song.