Back to the Village

Reginald Gibbons

It’s dark when we arrive at the doorwaywhere I spoke my long-ago goodbyeas the rooster was singing one of his epics.The door’s locked. I call outand there’s no answer.The stone bench beside the doorwhere Mamá brought my big brotherinto this bright world so he would saddlebacks for me. But I would later ride them bare,rambling through narrow streets and outbeyond—village boy that I was.This very bench of stone is where I leftmy hard childhood to yellow in the sun.And this doorway framed by grief?God, in His peace … somewhere else—far from this place! My horse, mere beast,snorts—he too is calling to them. He's scentedsomething, he clops his hooves on the cobblestones,he snorts. But he’s not sure—he swivels his pricked ears.Papá must still be up. Praying. Maybeeven now he’s still fretting: Something’s madethe boy late. My simple-hearted sisters—incessantly whispering their busylittle fantasies to each other, getting readyfor a holy day that’s not coming.And almost everythinghas been prepared. I hope and wait.My heart’s an egg that almost…but something’s blocking it,something’s in the way.That big family we forsook not solong ago—this night nobody’s stillawake, nobody’s put even one candle on the altarso that we’d come back—my soul and I.I call out again. And… nothing.I and my soul both hush. We begin to weep.The animal snorts, tosses his head, whinnies.But for all eternity they’re all asleep.Yet this is so much for the best that at lastmy tired horse, standing beside me, shakeshis head, softly jiggling his bridle and the reins.But he falls asleep, then he wakes, he bowshis head low, this night,he falls asleep again. And every time he wakes,he nods to me and he says—It’s all right. Everything’s all right.                                                                                                             —César Vallejo (1922)

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Reginald Gibbons was born and raised in Houston. Renditions (2021), which includes “Back to the Village” is his eleventh book of poems. His collection Creatures of a Day was a Finalist for the National Book Award. His novel Sweetbitter will be reissued in paperback by JackLeg Press in 2022. Among his other books are Slow Trains Overhead: Chicago Poems and Stories and Last Lake (poems), and a book about poetry, How Poems Think (these three books published by Univ. of Chicago Press), and An Orchard in the Street (flash fiction and cnf, BOA Editions). His co-translations of Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Bakkhai were published by Oxford Univ. Press. He is a Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University, where he was editor of TriQuarterly magazine 1981-1997, and he teaches creative writing; he was for many years a member of the core faculty in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

"If poetry is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead, as Auden suggested, then Reginald Gibbons’ Renditions is the best kind of feast you can imagine. Here Gibbons speaks to Mandelshtam about heaviness and tenderness, those two sisters; here we watch him read aloud the great dead poets in his own voice while gusts of rain splatter against our glass hearts, like happiness. Why? Because Gibbons is a master of variousness, he excels in many different tonalities at once, as if each is a different tongue. Though his favorite, perhaps, is the language of nuance and delicacy, of lyric precision. So his Vallejo teaches us fire by walking, impossibly, down the same long street with a loaf of bread. . ."
—Ilya Kaminsky

"This collection might also be called ‘Liberties’: Reginald Gibbons has taken passionate liberties with the poems he loves, from many languages and many centuries. In a devotional ventriloquism, he throws his voice into the voices of Wang Wei, Sophocles, Pindar, Tsvetaeva, Mandelshtam, Neruda, and a host of others. Ancient themes of justice and injustice resonate through his modern forms, and the volume gathers in the final ode to an extended, eloquent, and furiously contemporary curse on a recognizable tyrant. For Reginald Gibbons, poetry is collective: he has turned his debts into song."
—Rosanna Warren

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