Yesterday, at the age of 87, poet Jack Gilbert died. He was the recipient of numerous accolades, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his 2005 collection Refusing Heaven. Gilbert was published on granta.com on 26 February 2009. ‘Meanwhile’ and ‘The New Bride Amost Visible in Latin’ are taken from his collection The Dance Most of All. We republish them today in dedication to his memory.
It waits. While I am walking through the pine trees
along the river, it is waiting. It has waited a long time.
In southern France, in Belgium, and even Alabama.
Now it waits in New England while I say grace over
almost everything: for a possum dead on someone’s lawn,
the single light on a levee while Northampton sleeps,
and because the lanes between houses in Greek hamlets
are exactly the width of a donkey loaded on each side
with barley. Loneliness is the mother’s milk of America.
The heart is a foreign country whose language none
of us is good at.Winter lingers on in the woods,
but already it looks discarded as the birds return
and sing carelessly; as though there never was the power
or size of December. For nine years in me it has waited.
My life is pleasant, as usual. My body is a blessing
and my spirit clear. But the waiting does not let up.
The New Bride Almost Visible in Latin
We want to believe that what happens
in the dark bedroom is normal.
Pretending that being alive
is reasonable keeps the door shut
against whether maggots, nematodes,
and rot are also created in God’s image.
Our excess is measured, our passion
almost deliberate. As we grow up,
we more and more love appropriately.
When Alicia got married, the priest
conducted the Mass in English because
it was understandable. He faced us
as though we were friends. Had us
gather around the altar afterwards.
She hugged and kissed each one until me.
The bride, fresh from Communion,
kissed me deeply with her tongue,
her husband three feet away.
The great portals of our knowing
each other closed forever. I was flooded
by the size of what had ended.
But it was the mystery of marriage
and its hugeness that shocked me,
fell on me like an ox. I felt
mortality mixing with the fragrance
of my intimacy with her. The difference
between the garden of her body
and the presence of her being was the same
distance as the clear English of the Mass from
the blank Latin which held the immensities.