Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jack Gilbert: "Poems of Savage Compassion"

Before we let National Poetry Month slip down the rabbit hole, here's a favorite poem of mine by the late Jack Gilbert, born in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1925. The poet James Dickey said of Gilbert's work: "He takes himself away to a place more inward than is safe to go. From that awful silence and tightening, he returns to us poems of savage compassion."
Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina

There was no water at my grandfather’s
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people’s house was before
they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor’s cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out of shape.
I see myself, but from the outside.
I keep trying to feel who I was,
and cannot. Hear clearly the sound
the bucket made hitting the sides
of the stone well going down,
but never the sound of me.

-- from the New Yorker magazine, Nov. 10, 2008