—Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012
I say moon is horses in the tempered dark,
because horse is the closest I can get to it.
I sit on the terrace of this worn villa the king’s
telegrapher built on the mountain that looks down
on a blue sea and the small white ferry
that crosses slowly to the next island each noon.
Michiko is dying in the house behind me,
the long windows open so I can hear
the faint sound she will make when she wants
watermelon to suck or so I can take her
to a bucket in the corner of the high-ceilinged room
which is the best we can do for a chamber pot.
She will lean against my leg as she sits
so as not to fall over in her weakness.
How strange and fine to get so near to it.
The arches of her feet are like voices
of children calling in the grove of lemon trees,
where my heart is as helpless as crushed birds.
“When you realize how little these people like being themselves, you begin to understand why they want to escape consciousness”
Today at the tree-tucked magic barn of Grey Matter Books in Hadley, MA, I bought for $8 the very first issue of Genesis West, the magazine Gordon Lish edited pre-Quarterly, so we’re talking on the fun bus with Neal Cassady and not out to lunch with Raymond Carver. Grey Matter Books had the entire set of Genesis West, all seven volumes, except now they don’t, because Nat Otting owns six and I own one.
In this 1962 issue is an interview between Lish and Jack Gilbert, whose book Views of Jeporody had at the time just won the Yale Younger Poets Series award. After the break are two cool excerpts from the conversation, one about that old hobbyhorse of poetry’s relevance, and one in which Gilbert takes to task the aesthetics of the Beat movement. The whole interview is terrific, and I post these excerpts not to signal unequivocal agreement with Gilbert’s grouching, but to air for the consideration of contemporary relevance some pretty solid gnashing from the early mouth of a major poet.