So many wonderful poems about Icarus–probably my two favorites are Jack Gilbert’s Failing and Flying and Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts.  I love Muriel Rukeyser’s Waiting for Icarus  too.  This one by Robert Cording (from Poetry Daily) adds something new to the assemblage. It takes flight from a stark opening:


After our son died, my wife found him
in coincidences—sightings of hawks, mostly,
at the oddest of times and places, and then
in a pair of redtails that took up residence,
nesting in a larch above our barn, and how
their low, frequent sweeps just a few feet above us
before rising over our kitchen roof
made it seem as if they were looking in on us.
In a way, it all made sense, our son so at home
in high places—the edges of mountain trails,
walking on a roof, or later, after he became
a house painter, at the top of a forty-foot ladder.
So many mornings we woke to the redtails’
jolting screeches and, even if I was a casual believer,
their presence multiplied my love
for the ordinary more every day. We never thought,
of course, any of those hawks was our son—
who would ever want that?—but, once,
watching one rise and rise on a draft of air,
I thought of Icarus soaring toward the sun—
as if an old story could provide the distance
I needed—waxed and feathered, his arms winged,
and remembered a babysitter’s frantic call
to come home, immediately, after she’d found
our ten-year-old nearly forty feet up
in an oak tree. I can almost hear him again, laughing
high up in the sky, throned on a branch,
his feet dangling, knowing nothing but the promise
of heights as he waved to me—
and I must have looked very small
calling up to him, staying calm
so falsely as I pleaded with him
to come down, to come down now.

Robert Cording

The art of the short poem

Does anyone do it better than this?


I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

Jack Gilbert

Spring cleaning

Business-man-buried-under-paper1Going through old files on my computer, trying to organize–organization, or the Platonic ideal of it, always just outside my grasp. The process is extraordinarily time consuming, good work for foggy mornings.

In the process, I found this poem of Jack Gilbert’s I copied two years ago. It beautifully articulates a world view I share, except for the “what God wants” phrase. I think I’d leave that out and just say “We enjoy our lives. Otherwise” and go on from there. It seems I’m always editing Gilbert just a tad, too bad he’s not around to argue with me:

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
Bur we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women Continue reading “Spring cleaning”

More on Jack Gilbert

Littoral Press is printing a new book of poems by Steven Rood, I Say Their Names. Among the poems is this one referencing Jack Gilbert, which he kindly allowed me to post here:

Last Things

The old man still wants to write poems.
But can’t see or make a pen work.
He also repeats things. He asks me
what the tone of my life is. Tone, Jack?
Desperate, fearful, deep, courageous, happy?
Yes, Jack, all of them. That’s good, he says.
And wants to know what the shape
of my life is. Shape, Jack? Drifting,
floating, purposeful, incidental, flowing?
Yes, Jack, all of them. That’s good, he says.
Then asks me what the tone of my life is.
And its shape. I answer more carefully,
so that I really do think I have power, deep, and fear
as my tones, and uncertainty as my shape.
I was frightened, he says, that you would just float.
What do you want to do with the rest of your life? he asks.
Which he asks of everyone in the assisted living facility.
As a result, he thinks, all the residents hate him.
I tell him I love him and the way he asks his questions,
over and over, until an answer begins to clarify
as I stutter and sound stupid trying to make sense
out of myself inside his bewildering
assignments. That’s the way he’s always taught.
The strange mind and immense feeling
twisting himself and me into odd angles.
His tone is truth and will. His shape is helpless.
The rest of his life is grief.

Steven Rood
[for Jack Gilbert]

Interesting how one thing leads to another.

Out and back before 9:30 am, no ticket needed

This morning I was reading the selection of Jack Gilbert’s poems from the second of the small Bloodaxe anthologies I stumbled on at UCB. I liked a number of poems–a pleasant surprise. I think I’ve mentioned before that my first reaction to a new poem/poet is a kind of wariness. For me the sensibility of the poems is as important as the skill they demonstrate. There is so much I don’t like, and I close myself off out of self-protection against the assault of bad poetry.

But reading through this selection was like making a new friend. You meet for coffee or a walk, talk about things, become closer, begin to trust the sensibility of this person, share more, talk more deeply: Yes, I understand your thoughts on this, I feel that way, too. Continue reading “Out and back before 9:30 am, no ticket needed”