Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dialect Of The Heart: Jack Gilbert

"What we feel most has / no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds." ~ "The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart," Jack Gilbert
This week was my birthday, or "birthweek" as we say in our home, and I'm happy to report I'm still following the songlines of dreamtime. When you're young and naive, dreams flare easily into life and often continue giving off heat well after life cools. Then you hit your late thirties or forties only to find you've been running on the fumes of your twenties. Or worse; you've turned off the engine.

Kullilla Art
I've got a sackful of dreamtime and I'm relocating back to Canada after a decade of living abroad. What else could I ask for? (Okay, maybe that 1964 Plymouth Valiant convertible I saw at White Rock beach the other day, but I digress). Something else I'm doing is reveling in the poetry of Jack Gilbert.
The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart

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 all 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 laguage but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

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