“Alone” by Jack Gilbert

I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody’s dalmation. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was never like that with
other people. Sometimes she is tethered
on their lawn when I go by. If nobody
is around, I sit on the grass. When she
finally quiets, she puts her head in my lap
and we watch each other’s eyes as I whisper
in her soft ears. She cares nothing about
the mystery. She likes it best when
I touch her head and tell her small
things about my days and our friends.
That makes her happy the way it always did.


Jack Gilbert, “Alone” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2012 by Jack Gilbert.


Mr. Gilbert reads “Alone” and other poems in the below video. “Alone” begins at timestamp 14:10.

From the video’s description:

Jack Gilbert reads and introduces eight poems from his collections MONOLITHOS (1982) and THE GREAT FIRES (1994). This is an extract from a longer reading he gave for the Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles on 11 November 1995 when he was also interviewed by Jody AllenRandolph. That interview is posted as a separate video at http://youtu.be/UEcre9T5Gts

The poems are all included in TRANSGRESSIONS: SELECTED POEMS (Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2006) and COLLECTED POEMS (Knopf, 2012). The poems are (with page numbers from TRANSGRESSIONS): ‘Pewter’ (35), ‘Finding Something’ (65), ‘Going Wrong’ (57), ‘A Description of Happiness in København’ (49), ‘Searching for Pittsburgh” (68), ‘Alone’ (79), ‘Highlights and Interstices’ (94), and ‘Tear It Down’ [earlier text] (61).


“A Brief For The Defense” by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But 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
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven


Jack Gilbert (February 18, 1925 – November 13, 2012) gave a rare and delightful interview with the Paris Review, published in 2005, at the age of 80. The interview featured the below–previously unpublished–poem, “The Great Debate” by Gilbert. From the Paris Review, “Jack Gilbert, The Art of Poetry No. 91.”
Interviewed by Sarah Fay.



Who would want to be thinking day and night?
the young man said, eating his chicken
in the beautiful cool shade. Me, I said
before I could stop myself. Heard how it sounded
but knew what would happen if I qualified it.
Me, I said again, but he was already talking
about how a doctor had cured his knee with magic.

Via The Paris Review Interviews: Volume I