Thursday, November 15, 2012
Jack Gilbert: Coming to the End of Triumph
I read my first Jack Gilbert poem in Barbara Abercrombie's UCLA Extension class Writing the Healing Story. It seems overstated, perhaps, to say that now, a decade later, I can conjure up the classroom, where I was sitting, and many of the faces around the tables that were arranged into a large hollow-centered rectangle. Barbara's writer-whisperer style of teaching often meant that she would use a poem as a prompt, and while this poem by Jack Gilbert did not wrench a premonition from me about the not- so-distant demise of my marriage, time stood still long enough for Gilbert's words to settle into me. Reading it again just after the poet's death on Tuesday, it felt all the more moving as a perfect description of how my marriage didn't end.
Failing and Flying
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of triumph.
If you'd like to read more about Jack Gilbert, you can find a piece here and here.
The image at the top of the post is a Peter Paul Ruebens painting.