po_Gilbert-JackJack Gilbert (February 18, 1925 – November 13, 2012) was an American poet.

A self-described “serious romantic,” Gilbert had a relationship with poet Linda Gregg, and was later married to sculptor Michiko Nogami, who died after 11 years of marriage. Many of his poems are about these relationships and losses.



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

It is burden enough that death lies on all sides,
that your old kimono is still locked in my closet.
Now I wonder what would happen if my life did
catch on fire again. Would I break in half,
part of me a storm and part like ice in a silver bowl?
I lie awake remembering the birds of Kyoto
calling No No, unh unh. And you
saying yes all night. You said yes when I woke you
again in the dawn. And even disgracefully
at lunchtime. Until all the men at the small inn
roamed about, hoping to see whoever that voice was.
The Buddha tells us we should clear every obstacle
out of the way. “If you meet your mother in the path,
kill her. If the Buddha gets in the way, kill him.”
But my spirit sings like the perishing cicadas
while I sit in the back yard hitting an old pot.


Jack Gilbert

Can you understand being alone so long
you would go out in the middle of the night
and put a bucket into the well
so you could feel something down there
tug at the other end of the rope?


Jack Gilbert

Maybe when something stops, something lost in us
can be heard, like the young woman’s voice that
seemed to come from an upstairs screened porch.
There were no lights in the house, nor in the other
houses, almost one o’clock. The muffled sweet
moans changed as she changed from what she was not
into the more she was. The small painting became
the gasping. Never getting loud but growing
ever more evident in the leafy summer street.
Whimpers and keening, a perishing, then nothing.
In the silence, the man outside began to unravel,
maybe altering. Maybe altering more than that.


Jack Gilbert

The boy came home from school and found a hundred lamps
filling the house. Lamps everywhere and all turned on
despite the summer shining in the handsome windows.
Two and three lamps on every table. Lamps in chairs
and on the rugs and even in the kitchen. More lamps
upstairs and on the topmost floor as well. All brightly
burning, until the police came and took them away.
An excess of light that continued in him for a long time.
That radiance of lamps flourishing in the day became
a benchmark for his heart, became a Beaufort scale
for his appetites. The wildness and gladness of it,
the illicitness in him magnified the careful gleam
of Paris mornings when he got to them, and the dark
glisten of the Seine each night as he crossed
the stone bridges back to his room. It was the same
years later as the snow fell through the bruised light
of a winter afternoon and he stood in a narrow street
telling Anna he was leaving. All of it a light beyond
anybody’s ability to manage. The massachussetts sunlight
lies comfortably on the maples. The Pittsburgh lamps
inside of him make it look maybe not good enough.