Wednesday, June 17 – Dan Gerber, the courage we live in
“How big is my heart, I wonder?
How will it encompass these men dressed in black?”
I’d looked at two or three poems before this one ran into me. So precise, and so demanding. The poem met me, c. 2 hours into this Wednesday morning, radiant sun anointing a long and wearing work week. Dan Gerber had run into me before, with his cacophony of tenderness and terror. Now it is two hours into this workday morning of another week of fear and anger and astonishing mercy. Dan Gerber reminds us of the courage we live in as we pay attention to what in the world wants our attention, the courage we live from.
Dan Gerber is a hard read. Best to read “Seventieth Birthday” out loud, with pauses. Or perhaps even better to click on the link below the poem and listen to the poet read it to you. Or both.
Have a blest week,
Today’s post: “ON MY SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY” Dan Gerber
Sailing Through Cassiopeia (Copper Canyon Press, 2013)
Let everything happen to you:
beauty and terror.
Only press on: no feeling is final.
I read that tens of thousands of people
have drowned in Bangladesh
and that a million more
may die from isolation, hunger, cholera,
and its sisters, thirst and loneliness.
This morning in our lime tree,
I noticed a bee
dusting a single new bud,
just now beginning to bloom,
while all the other branches were sagging
with heavy green fruit.
I read that in Moscow
every man, woman, child, and dog
is inhaling eight packs of cigarettes a day—
or its equivalent in smoke—
from the fires raging over the steppes.
I saw the god of storms
take the shape of a tree,
bowing to the desert
with her back to the sea.
I saw on television,
a woman in Iran buried up to her breasts,
then wrapped in light gauze
(to protect the spectators),
weeping in terror and pleading for her life
while someone at the edge of the circle
of men dressed in black
picked up the first baseball-sized rock
from the hayrick-sized pile,
to hurl at her eyes, nose, mouth,
ears, throat, breasts, and shoulders.
How big is my heart, I wonder?
How will it encompass these men dressed in black?
Now the fog drifts in over the passes,
screening the peaks into half-tones.
And then into no tones at all.
These goats with names,
with eyes that make you wonder,
who will be slaughtered today.
Why these goats?
There are reasons,
but they are human reasons.
I listened while my friend
spoke through his grief for his son,
shot to death in a pizza shop he managed
after emptying the safe
for a desperate young man with a gun—
who my friend told me he’d forgiven—
spoke of consolation through his tears,
the spirit of his son still with him, he said.
The spirit of his son still with him.
joy of my eye
that reaches in so many directions—
Are the birds that fly from your branches
closer to heaven?
shimmering on the surface of the pond,
its rippling reflected in your eyes,
of which you are no more aware
than the wind, just passing through this oak,
of the acorns still bobbing.
The mountains, resolute now
in fading light.
With her nose deep in the late-summer grass,
my dog calls up a new story.
Hear the poet read his poem here