It's been a slow fall of fishing for me. Points just didn't seem to connect throughout the last two months. I ended the summer of fantastic bass fishing and big Maine brook trout and landlocked salmon by falling quickly back into a deluge of work. I lost all my headspace that allowed me to explore in a pile of papers and lesson plans. So it goes. No complaining here. Sometimes it's just hard to not let your life become, as Jim Harrison mused, "the sloppy leftovers of your work." This is just to say that it's easy for me to trace my life over the lines of fishing and come up with a pretty dynamic and accurate portrait of how I've been living. The past few months have held very few points and the lines that were connected seemed short and didn't draw much more than a few incoherent shapes that look like they were traced left handed by a right handed person. Pretty symbolic of how I've been feeling.
It's easy for us to measure our life by one or two points: relationships, work, hobbies, money, politics, things, whatever our focus goes to, and not take into account the whole landscape of what we've been living. Now that the leaves are mostly down and the sun is gone by 6, I'm left with some space for reflection. It's easier to see further when the trees are naked, but you have less time for it. Anyway, a few points have bolded themselves and have marked the last few months. One has been Jack Gilbert. Life seems to always go back to his words. There is one poem that I keep coming back to, rereading every other day - "I Imagine the Gods" . Two lines in particular.
"Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present, Help me to find
the heft of these days."
If ever there was a prayer that I should say every day, this is it.
On a purely stylistic note, I absolutely love his choice of "heft" instead of "weight". Completely different connotations in this context. Weight holds us down, requires strength to maneuver. Whereas Heft has the duality of functioning as both a noun and verb, thereby not immediately attaching itself to its root meaning of weight, but also of action and active engagement in the moment.
Every once in a lucky while, a poet, writer, musician, or artist of some kind will come along and speak specifically to you. Thankfully, Jack Gilbert came to me through podcast whispers and secondhand comments and now I can't put his work down.
I haven’t read a poet that has resounded with me so much since Gary Snyder back in late teens and early twenties when I was living out of a backpack doing trail work.
I think what I love most is how Jack speaks about life without making it any more than just life.
"we must unlearn the constellations to see the stars..."
I have found myself lately, much like the protagonist in The Talking Heads’ song “Once in a Lifetime”, in a large automobile, letting the days go by, and the water holding me down. Then Jack came along and spoke clearly about this adult malaise that seems to afflict us at some point.
One day you may wake up old thinking you know it all, seen it all, and exist simply to just put in another day. The eggs are burnt to the pan and the coffee needs some sugar; minor adjustments just to make sure the routine goes smoothly. Maybe that’s what life eventually becomes and maybe that’s what life is, but we don’t have to suffer the knowledge of knowing it all before it happens. Sometimes we need to let our eyes wander over to the trees on the horizon as the sun bakes its last leaves for the day.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
As we grow older, as another day passes, it’s easy for us (maybe it’s a human nature) to begin finding patterns in life, routines. We slowly begin to live these patterns, expecting certain things to happen at certain times, expecting certain people to be nice, others to offhandedly shake us off. Through these expectations and their inevitable disappointment, we end up missing out what is actually there - life. We become blinded by the constellations we project onto our daily existence and lose sight of real moments right in front of us. I think that’s what Jack is trying to tell us here: tear down your preconceived notions and pre-judgements of people and experiences and find the heart of it all.
I highly recommend Jack Gilbert's Collected Poems. It's a collection of pretty much all his work. Often times I'll find myself sitting down after the day is done and flipping through this collection, reading which poems stand out at that time. A poet (or artist of any sort) that speaks to you is worth more than most other things in life, that's for sure. It is imperative that we find those voices that speak to us. Seek them out, listen to them, and then use your own.
“Tear it Down” - Jack Gilbert
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within that body.
I stumbled upon the name "Raftman's Path" walking the river trail that traverses through the little town I live in. It was named during the days when lumber was a huge commodity in this area. The Susquehanna River was an industrial thoroughfare - bearing down loads of lumber from the northern reaches of Pennsylvania towards the Chesapeake. Marietta was a stopping point, a place for the lumber either to go to the mills lining its banks or shoot further downstream through pig iron smoke. Raftmen would guide the lumber down to the mouth of the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake - an estuary of salt, water, lumber, ore, eel and shad. When their job was done, they would walk the raftman's path back through the Susquehanna Riverlands of Lancaster County towards their homes. The path is now wooded and meanders through some of the only "wild" places left in the county.