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Painting by William Haskell

Fragment of a poem by Jack Gilbert…

There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

*

Alone

I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody’s dalmatian. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was never like that with
other people. Sometimes she is tethered
on their lawn when I go by. If nobody
is around, I sit on the grass. When she
finally quiets, she puts her head in my lap
and we watch each other’s eyes as I whisper
in her soft ears. She cares nothing about
the mystery. She likes it best when
I touch her head and tell her small
things about my days and our friends.
That makes her happy the way it always did.

— Jack Gilbert

I’m always amazed and enchanted when I discover a real poet. Whether or not they write poetry is never in the technique, it’s in how they think, how they see things. Jack Gilbert writes simply. The poetry he writes is in his vision of living.

I’m not a poet. I’m always surprised and moved by the mystery and magistry of such beauty created by such simple means. Worlds created by words and ideas, by visions. It’s magic.

Is a poet born and not made? It seems so to me. I don’t want to be a wannabe poet, but I admit to feeling a little flash of envy when I think how impossible it would be for me to create that kind of beauty.

Thank God, though, for the real poets in this world. Where would we be if there were no poets and no poetry? Unthinkable!

And there are ideas to be found in poetry. There are new ways of looking at things, things you hadn’t thought of before. Poets are philosophers, seers. They are peering into the heart of life and reporting honestly what they see. You can take it or not, and in this world most of us won’t. They just speak from the eye of the heart.

I’ve tried a lot of different arts, even this one, surreptitiously. I suspect, though, that in this case I am meant to sit in the audience and appreciate.

Not that that will keep me from trying to strap on those wings and take to the air.

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