Tuesday, May 11, 2010

cartoon comment on Gilbert's The End of Paradise

[caption: "Any chance we could stop by my broker's house?" The New Yorker, November 16, 2009, p. 76]

Let me re-post Jack Gilbert's amazing poem (for Gilbert, it was of course the women in his life, not the broker)


When the angels found him sitting in the half light
of his kerosene lamp eating lentils, his eyes widened.
But all he said was could he leave a note. The one
wearing black looked at the other one in red who shrugged,
so he began writing, desperately. Wadded the message
into an envelope and wrote Anna on the front. Quickly
began another, shoulders hunched, afraid of them.
Finished and wrote Pimpaporn on it. Began a third
one and the heavy angel growled. “I have Schubert,”
the man offered, turning on the tape. The one in black
said quietly that at least he didn’t say “So soon!”
When the ink ran out, the man whimpered and struggled
to the table piled with books and drafts. He finished
again and scrawled Suzanne across it. The one in red
growled again and the man said he’d put on his shoes.
When they took him out into the smell of dry vetch
and the ocean, he began to hold back, pleading:
“I didn’t put on the addresses! I don’t want them to think
I forgot.” “It doesn’t matter,” the better angel said,
“they’ve been dead for years.”

~ Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven

It is hard to let go -- even of trivia, not to mention things of true importance.
Robert Cording has a poem that in part alludes to that, imagining a "half-way house" where the dying sort out their "last certainties." But the poem also takes note of the living, who must dispose of possessions once essential to the dead person. In the end, the survivors will also be sorting their memories, their "certainties" about the departed.


At the room’s threshold you paused
as if caught by the stillness at the heart
of grief’s sheer drop and, like Vermeer’s
woman holding up her empty scales
in the window’s light, you held the room’s
remote self-containment: the sadness
of failing light at the windows; the few
things no longer his – a ring of keys,
a wallet, some prayer books; the lamp
and clock on the side table; the rented
hospital bed, stripped now, that waited
like a bed in some halfway house
between worlds where the dying sift
through the last certainties that prop up
their lives, and then are gone, leaving
the dumbstruck living to weigh
an unthinkable life, a death, an empty room.

~ Robert Cording, Against Consolation


1 comment:

  1. Some pretty sobering reading here, these poems really capture the foreboding of death and its grounding in isolation.