This tall fern has a midrib so sturdy
I can pluck its broad width of green
and wave it before my face as I walk
the lane, the gnats and the deerflies
shooed pell-mell as the air ripples away
from my body. I’m no longer a target.
Do this enough, in three million years
I’ll have evolved a frontal “tail”
to cool my passion. Should the heat
and human nature continue for eons,
ferns may be as lofty as oaks,
we humans a scurry of ants—fancy ants
with rudimentary green tails in our heads,
still addicted to sweets, to nasturtiums,
to love, and to the crooked
avenues of desire that bring it home
to our little colonies in the fern groves …
Well, so much for this morning’s
vow to let fantasy fall away. No more,
I said, this substitute life that remains
stuck in my head. Too bad—I perform
so beautifully on that stage. Whatever
the right words, I say them. I’m exciting.
You’re bound by my spell: you even
love me—yes, you over there,
turning your head my way. But that
lowdown queasiness, the tight inner frown—
how seldom, if ever, I acknowledge these.
When I do, and if I listen faithfully,
what I hear is childhood’s bat cave echo,
You’ll never be good enough.
That’s what I believe, apparently.
Not evolution. Not the slow work of God.
Today, Rumi writes, a new madness is
trying to set us free. If so, says my head,
you can exchange old madness for new.
My head calls me you—and who is that?
I ask again and again, until at last
my slow-going stalactite consciousness
adds a glow-in-the-dark inch of joy—
then opens as daylilies do into a wide sky’s
uplift of light and air. To end a poem
in a mix of metaphors may be madness,
but I’ve just learned—waving my fern
down the lane, following what isn’t
and what is, wherever they lead me—the real
work is not the poem, but what moves me to it,
evolving into this good silence. I won’t claim more.
Copyright © 2018 by Margaret Gibson
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Margaret Gibson is the author of twelve collections of poems and one prose memoir. A native of Virginia, now a resident of Preston, Connecticut, she has received numerous honors, including the Lamont Selection, Connecticut Book Award, and Melville Kane Award. Her collection The Vigil was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry. (Author photo by Ted Hendrickson)
“I look about and find whatever I see / unfinished,” Margaret Gibson writes in these powerful and moving poems, which investigate a late-life genesis. Not Hearing the Wood Thrush grapples with the existential questions that come after experiencing a great personal loss. A number of poems meditate on loneliness and fear; others speak to “No one”—a name richer than prayer or vow.” In this transformative new collection, Gibson moves inward, taking surprising, mercurial turns of the imagination, guided by an original and probative intelligence. With a clear eye and an open heart, Gibson writes, “How stark it is to be alive”—and also how glorious, how curious, how intimate.
“At once plainspoken and profoundly inventive, these poems have a quality of attention that is riveting.”