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by Jack Gilbert


We are not one with this world. We are not

the complexity our body is, nor the summer air

idling in the big maple without purpose.

We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves

as it passes through. We are not the wood

any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage

between the two. We are certainly not the lake

nor the fish in it, but the something that is

pleased by them. We are the stillness when

a mighty Mediterranean noon subtracts even the voices

of insects by the broken farmhouse. We are evident

when the orchestra plays, and yet are not part

of the strings or brass. Like the song that exists

only in the singing, and is not the singer.

God does not live among the church bells,

but is briefly resident there. We are occasional

like that. A lifetime of easy happiness mixed

with pain and loss, trying always to name and hold

on to the enterprise underway in our chest.

Reality is not what we marry as a feeling. It is what

walks up the dirt path, through the excessive heat

and giant sky, the sea stretching away.

He continues past the nunnery to the old villa

where he will sit on the terrace with her, their sides

touching. In the quiet that is the music of that place,

which is the difference between silence and windlessness.


This poem by Jack Gilbert is one I keep rolling over in my heart and mouth. Tasting the wisdom, the hard and gentle edges of the words. My mind skims the awareness between thoughts, grasping at meaning like a thread of golden light. This particular poem seems to fit the light gray rain today, the still skies. Autumn, perhaps the most melancholy of seasons. When the fabric between life and death feels thinnest, when what is yields to what will pass. I love the imagery Gilbert uses to describe a kind of living pulse, that essence of being that is temporal and shapeshifting and both in and not of the world lived in. As we walk under the old trees, let us look up at the changing leaves in their many colors, bear witness to how the leaves cling and fall. Look up into the vast open sky and feel the way in which we are none of this and yet nothing more. That we are as the wind walking and breathing and dreaming. We are the music in the piano, the bells in the chambers of the heart. Occasional like that.



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