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Not Getting Closer by Jack Gilbert

I have been off the track for awhile. Two weeks, almost. No, not off the track. Derailed, it seems like. On some days they are almost the same. I can’t seem to find the energy—or desire—to find my way back.

No, that’s not true. On some days I want so badly to get back to what once was, but I also find myself asking, what was that? On some nights the answer is simple: the day before. The weeks before. Or just: before.

I almost envy people who know who they are. The certainty of what they want, of what they will do, today, tomorrow. They knew who they were yesterday. Now. Isn’t that precious? I’ll ask, who are you? You’ll say, me. Just me.

I am never just me, these days.

I woke up this morning saying, I’ll do this, but I didn’t. I went to bed last night thinking, I will do it, I swear, but today I didn’t. Again.

I want to know what happened. No, that’s not true. I know what happened. But why. That’s what I don’t understand. There’s this space where everything should be but I see nothing, feel nothing.

It’s funny; it all started with a simple thing. I had it, my future, and I saw myself there, for once, finally. And I worked towards that. Months, weeks, days. Then one day it was just gone.

I feel myself fading again. Meant for the sea—I used to say that.

Today there is no sea. I am in the middle of fucking nowhere and I don’t even have the comfort of water to sink into. Dry, everywhere. Everything. Chafing.

N. told me once, it gets heavy, after talking with you. After our conversations.

I suppose I go through life now feeling sorry about it. I try to keep my mouth shut. I am sorry. But sometimes not sorry enough, maybe. I suppose this is why I have this.

Last May I said, I am changing, and I really believed that I was. Now I can’t find that part of myself again and I think I am destroying all the work I’ve put through to get there. Here. Wherever this is. Hah, she’s lost, the fool—you’re probably thinking this. I might agree. This is also probably why a part of me says that I have to fight it—fight for it—whichever is true.

It’s a relapse, says a voice in my head. You’ll get over it. However, this is the longest that it’s ever been. I’m letting things slide. The part of me that is looking out for my survival says that this has got to stop. The longer it happens the more difficult it would be to fix it. If we can fix it, another voice whispers.

Oh, you should be fine with it. You’ve been here before. You’re used to the sadness and the aching and it’s not as if you didn’t live through them, because you did. They’re like shadows. Second skin. Bones that hold yourself in. So you didn’t survive your first encounter with happiness. So what. There is a life you knew before, you still have that. You can go back.

But I don’t want to. The part of me that wants to fight shouts this over and over, I don’t want to. Forward—that’s where I want to be. I was so close. For awhile there, it felt really good. I want that. I want that now. But how to get there again? And who the fuck said I was ready for that anyway, and then leaves me at the first sign of resistance?

It’s not the end of the world, says A. I know, I said. And isn’t that what’s disgusting? To know that the world goes on but you can’t keep up. At least, not today.

Anchors, now. I am trying to save myself but don’t know yet how long it will take.

Not Getting Closer
Jack Gilbert

Walking in the dark streets of Seoul
under the almost full moon.
Lost for the last two hours.
Finishing a loaf of bread
and worried about the curfew.
I have not spoken for three days
and I am thinking, “Why not just
settle for love? Why not just
settle for love instead?”

This is from Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Comments (4)

  • LIZZ


    I’m cripled by my own thoughts for a second as I sit trying to decipher just how to respond to this- this piece of you that feels so much as if it was ripped from a piece of me.

    I know your struggle. I, too, have been asking myself ‘how the fuck to I get back there?’ and many times ‘do I want to go back…?’ And I guess we’re just overanalyzing everything. But, part of me feels that what I was born to do. That’s my *thing*, you know? Of course you do.

    And I’ve often wondered if you can fail at growing up. Can you fail at life? But, I look at us, and I know. I just know…we’re going to make it. We will. We will do it in our own way, in our own time. But, that’s what makes it life…it’s all ours. Love it. Live it. You’re amazing.


  • Pint Size Villan

    Dearest T,

    I fall short of any words that mean what I truly feel I should say… but then again, it would only be a sugar coated lift of embrace to your post. I am now at a cross roads… I am trying to make this happen for me.. creating my own luck, which always seems too good to be true at times. What of it, all of what we have worked for to this point. I want to be shinning in this dark world, in my dark world. I find light in you, and I follow it in hopes we soon burn the pupils of all who spot us. So for now, can we just say “Fuck it!” we’ll figure it out, we always do.


  • N

    Because you can say yes. And no. Separately and completely contradictory. And mean both. Could it be a “girls” menstruating at the same time thing–I being here in these things you’re saying now?

  • S

    I don’t know you…but I love poetry, so I do.

    I ended up here through an e. e. cummings favorite of mine, and started from your most recent blog entry and worked backwards. August 24th’s update #4 caught my eye, ‘One day at a time’, and I read on, and didn’t make it very far before I realized I know you on a far deeper and entirely different level than that of a common poetry adoration. I know you the level of suffering, and desperation, and being in a moment where Here is hellish, but There is torture and you’re in the middle and can’t seem to die fast enough. You speak of wanting to ‘get back there’, and I know what you’re talking about….I know because I AM there. I’m headed into my third autumn ‘there’ and still for the life of me could not tell you how it happened. I cannot explain how life altered on an unrealistically drastic scale for a girl like me or how I got better, but it did and I am. But I do know where I was, where I am, and what took place in between.

    It’s October. The holidays are on the horizon. My birthday is on Friday and I still have to be reminded. It’s the third time I’ve been sound of mind and body for this day and still, I need someone to tell me it’s approaching. The anticipation isn’t there, because the significance of when you came into this world loses meaning when you spend so many years trying to leave it…but I’m learning. I spent past Thanksgivings on the couches of people who didn’t know ME well enough to know BETTER, and I bounced from here to there, sleeping wherever I found a spot to lay my head. I spent Christmas Eves in any place but home. Sprawled out in bandonded vehicles wrapped in clothes that used to belong to someone else, insulated with layers of dust and grime from lack of motivation to even clean myself up in a Starbucks bathroom somewhere. I’d lay there with the only Christmas ‘spirits’ I knew, thoroughly impaired and far beyond functioning, yet painfully aware of being in such a condition, and not having the sense of time and days to even know the world was celebrating a holiday–much less be sad I wasn’t a part of it. The only things that kept me alive (while they slowly killed me) lay in the floorboard of that Oldsmobile, and they sustained me. I was not cold, I was not frightened, and I imagined that the dirty bottle of clear liquid and the tiny white pebbles that made sounds like Rice Krispie treats when they burned dispelled those things, but I know now that it was only because temperature and fear mean little to the dead. Sooner or later a friend or a relative (never my immediate family, they had written me off long ago) or a well-meaning stranger would offer me kindness and grace and a bed and some food and I would take what they offered and then take what they didn’t and disspear, just before betrayals were discovered and the other shoe dropped. Violence was dispensed and endured without hesitation and on a frequent basis, but it was part of the deal. Predictably, I was rather well acquainted with the men and women who wear badges and are paid to protect the world from people like me. Every time I cleaned up my act for a bit, trust built was quickly trust destroyed, and I resigned myself to ‘this’. I would die like ‘this’ nd I knew it and I could only hope it happened soon.

    I’m spending Christmas with that family who refused my presense in their life because they couldn’t watch me kill myself, and now they’ve been able to watch me build a life. I will surrounded with people who love me on my birthday, about fifty or so–which will differ exactly ZERO from my normal Friday nights, because I’ll be doing the same thing I always do, with that same group of folks. I do have a car. It’s a beat up little Saab that breaks sometimes but it runs and I don’t sleep in it. Somewhere along the way, almost two years ago, gentleman decided (much to my utter confusion) was a pretty quality gal and it’d be nice if they could get to know me a little better, and now I can’t get rid of him and I adore every moment of it. I pay taxes and show up on time and have yet to be in any sort of newspaper or related publication because of the newest debacle I’ve been involved in. But most of all, I get a chance to help people. Instead of hurt them. I throw myself into it, it’s my life because it can’t be about me. It can’t. Thinking about myself and what I wanted, the overpowering need for instant gratification and willingness to step on toes however hard I hard to get it…I don’t want to go back there. I love this life too much, and even though it’s not the life I would’ve mapped out for myself, I’m grateful for that, because it’s so much cooler than anything I could’ve ever come up with. I, too, want you to ‘get back there’. To get ‘it’, that elusive it that we all want walking in but can’t explain. I have it. I still cant explain it, but I have it, and I like it an awful, awful lot.

    I don’t know where you are, but I’m typing this at 5am from a little apartment on the eastern side of the United States. I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep, so here we are. I hope you find what you’re searching for, and I hope you find that renewed willingness to try again, because you didn’t fail at happiness. If my goldfish dies because I don’t feed it, it’s sad. I can cry about the goldfish, because that’s what happens when I’m sad, I cry and it hurts and that’s okay. But continued despair and endless tears will never bring the goldfish back. I mourn the loss (of days and weeks and months and time and happiness), and then I make sure when I get another shot at owning a goldfish (getting sober) that I feed it like I’m supposed to. What you’ve done doesn’t MEAN half as much as what you do from this point forward, and what you’ve done doesn’t MATTER at all…what you do going forward does.

    Let me know if you want contact info, email/FB/etc. If not, I’ll fade into the background of the interwebs and hope maybe I helped a little bit.


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