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.

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.

I have started drawing again. I meant to write poems, but that is what I did last night. It felt like a little piece of me had come home.

Explicating the Twilight
Jack Gilbert

The rat makes her way up
the mulberry tree, the branches
getting thin and risky up close
to the fruit, and she slows.
The berry she is after is so ripe,
there is almost no red. Prospero
thinks of Christopher Smart saying
purple is black blooming. She lifts
her mouth to the berry, stretching.
The throat is an elegant gray.
A thousand shades, Christopher wrote
among the crazy people. A thousand
colors from white to silver.

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

Goodbye, February. This month has not been good for my writing, but I enjoyed you just the same.

In Dispraise Of Poetry
Jack Gilbert

When the King of Siam disliked a courtier,
he gave him a beautiful white elephant.
The miracle beast deserved such ritual
that to care for him properly meant ruin.
Yet to care for him improperly was worse.
It appears the gift could not be refused.

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

And because I have difficulty writing tonight, my hands empty after grasping the air for hours for words that don’t seem to be there:

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart
Jack Gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient tongue
has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

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

Been thinking of taking long walks where I never come back.

Failing and Flying
Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

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

Playing the guitar. Staring at the sky.

Going There
Jack Gilbert

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

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