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Convalescing by Jack Gilbert

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I was standing at my desk, distracted by the sunlight coming through the window, talking to S. We have to come to terms with this, I said, but it wasn’t after a while when I realised I only said that in my head.

We’ve been afflicted with a malady. Impaired. Maybe. Imagine a relationship that’s started to sour, and your role in it. You can’t go back to the way things were, I think. There’s only further deterioration, or a conscious decision to let things go.

Profound tenderness. Jack Gilbert mentions that in an interview. I wonder if I’m capable of it. If my softness is only possible in words. If my physical body knows how to convey affection, if my hands, my eyes, my mouth recognise this language.

An hour later, we were thinking of Tuscany. There are 10,434 kilometers between here and there. We’re looking at flights. We’re looking at small houses to rent. We look at pictures of trees. Who lives like this, she asks me. People who were born in Tuscany, I say. People who have the world outside their window. People who aren’t us.

Reduce your own emotional involvement, someone giving advice wrote last night, if that’s something you’re capable of. I wanted to say, sure. But I also wanted to shout, have you met me?

D. and I work together, though mostly it is spent lately on disagreeing with each other. I would like to say that I am more capable of pain than affection because I am a poet, but it could also be that it’s because I don’t know how to be human. And yet his capacity to hurt is so extraordinary, each time I think I can be magnanimous, all I am is reduced to heartache. Why can’t we use language to be kind, why can’t I have a life where I just jump on a plane today and not think about what I’m leaving behind, and why can’t I allow myself to dream that one day I will be staring up at a cypress tree, which has waited two thousand years for me?

S. was talking in my ear and I was balancing myself on one foot, twisting my hair in a knot. A round, red Buddha was gazing up at me, a smile on his face. I tune back to the conversation: “…we’ve got to pick our battles,” she was saying. I look at the books on my desk. At the scattered papers and pens. At the writing that’s never finished. This is one, I think.

Jack Gilbert

I spend the days deciding
on a commemorative poem.
Not, luckily, an epitaph.
A quiet poem
to establish the fact of me.
As one of the incidental faces
in those stone processions.
Carefully done.
Not claiming that I was
at any of the great victories.
But that I volunteered.

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

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