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Best Famous Jack Gilbert Poems

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by Jack Gilbert | |

Searching For Pittsburgh

 The fox pushes softly, blindly through me at night, 
between the liver and the stomach.
Comes to the heart and hesitates.
Considers and then goes around it.
Trying to escape the mildness of our violent world.
Goes deeper, searching for what remains of Pittsburgh in me.
The rusting mills sprawled gigantically along three rivers.
The authority of them.
The gritty alleys where we played every evening were stained pink by the inferno always surging in the sky, as though Christ and the Father were still fashioning the Earth.
Locomotives driving through the cold rain, lordly and bestial in their strength.
Massive water flowing morning and night throughout a city girded with ninety bridges.
Sumptuous-shouldered, sleek-thighed, obstinate and majestic, unquenchable.
All grip and flood, mighty sucking and deep-rooted grace.
A city of brick and tired wood.
Ox and sovereign spirit.
Primitive Pittsburgh.
Winter month after month telling of death.
The beauty forcing us as much as harshness.
Our spirits forged in that wilderness, our minds forged by the heart.
Making together a consequence of America.
The fox watched me build my Pittsburgh again and again.
In Paris afternoons on Buttes-Chaumont.
On Greek islands with their fields of stone.
In beds with women, sometimes, amid their gentleness.
Now the fox will live in our ruined house.
My tomatoes grow ripe among weeds and the sound of water.
In this happy place my serious heart has made.


by Jack Gilbert | |

Recovering Amid The Farms

 Every morning the sad girl brings her three sheep 
and two lambs laggardly to the top of the valley, 
past my stone hut and onto the mountain to graze.
She turned twelve last year and it was legal for the father to take her out of school.
She knows her life is over.
The sadness makes her fine, makes me happy.
Her old red sweater makes the whole valley ring, makes my solitude gleam.
I watch from hiding for her sake.
Knowing I am there is hard on her, but it is the focus of her days.
She always looks down or looks away as she passes in the evening.
Except sometimes when, just before going out of sight behind the distant canebrake, she looks quickly back.
It is too far for me to see, but there is a moment of white if she turns her face.


by Jack Gilbert | |

In Dispraise Of Poetry

 When the King of Siam disliked a courtier, 
he gave him a beautiful white elephant.
The miracle beast deserved such ritual that to care for him properly meant ruin.
Yet to care for him improperly was worse.
It appears the gift could not be refused.


by Jack Gilbert | |

The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart

 How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite.
Love, we say, God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words get it all wrong.
We say bread and it means according to which nation.
French has no word for home, and we have no word for strict pleasure.
A people in northern India is dying out because their ancient tongue has no words for endearment.
I dream of lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can.
Maybe the Etruscan texts would finally explain why the couples on their tombs are smiling.
And maybe not.
When the thousands of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated, they seemed to be business records.
But what if they are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper, as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts of long-fibered Egyptian cotton.
My love is a hundred pitchers of honey.
Shiploads of thuya are what my body wants to say to your body.
Giraffes are this desire in the dark.
Perhaps the spiral Minoan script is not laguage but a map.
What we feel most has no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.


by Jack Gilbert | |

Tear It Down

 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 raccoon 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 that body.


by Jack Gilbert | |

The Abnormal Is Not Courage

 The Poles rode out from Warsaw against the German 
Tanks on horses.
Rode knowing, in sunlight, with sabers, A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace.
And yet this poem would lessen that day.
Question The bravery.
Say it's not courage.
Call it a passion.
Would say courage isn't that.
Not at its best.
It was impossib1e, and with form.
They rode in sunlight, Were mangled.
But I say courage is not the abnormal.
Not the marvelous act.
Not Macbeth with fine speeches.
The worthless can manage in public, or for the moment.
It is too near the whore's heart: the bounty of impulse, And the failure to sustain even small kindness.
Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being.
Not strangeness, but a leap forward of the same quality.
Accomplishment.
The even loyalty.
But fresh.
Not the Prodigal Son, nor Faustus.
But Penelope.
The thing steady and clear.
Then the crescendo.
The real form.
The culmination.
And the exceeding.
Not the surprise.
The amazed understanding.
The marriage, Not the month's rapture.
Not the exception.
The beauty That is of many days.
Steady and clear.
It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.


by Jack Gilbert | |

Rain

 Suddenly this defeat.
This rain.
The blues gone gray And the browns gone gray And yellow A terrible amber.
In the cold streets Your warm body.
In whatever room Your warm body.
Among all the people Your absence The people who are always Not you.
I have been easy with trees Too long.
Too familiar with mountains.
Joy has been a habit.
Now Suddenly This rain.


by Jack Gilbert | |

In Umbria

 Once upon a time I was sitting outside the cafe
watching twilight in Umbria when a girl came
out of the bakery with the bread her mother wanted.
She did not know what to do.
Already bewildered by being thirteen and just that summer a woman, she now had to walk past the American.
But she did fine.
Went by and around the corner with style, not noticing me.
Almost perfect.
At the last instant could not resist darting a look down at her new breasts.
Often I go back to that dip of her head when people talk about this one or that one of the great beauties.


by Jack Gilbert | |

Divorce

 Woke up suddenly thinking I heard crying.
Rushed through the dark house.
Stopped, remembering.
Stood looking out at bright moonlight on concrete.


by Jack Gilbert | |

Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying

 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.