Aftermath: Poems, Sandra M. Gilbert, 2011
Introduced to Gilbert at the Harvard Commencement where she received an honorary degree, this is her first book of poems that I’ve read, and I loved it. Teaching and living in Berkeley, CA, she is a much honored poet and essayist whose work on feminism and death is widely known. This book is a jewel of finely turned phrases, superb metaphors, and beautifully styled reminiscences mostly of her dead husband (to whom the book is dedicated), places they shared—-an apartment in the Marais, the island of Mull in the Hebrides, Ithaca, NY, and the Pacific beach of California. She weaves her husband’s mathematics, heart disease, intimate connections over many years, and the ‘lovely daily tastes’ of living together into many of these poems. So many wonderful poems and lines to quote, but here’s just a soupcon: In talking about their wedding, she closes with “As is customary, more than two thirds of the party/are now dead, including of course you,/and who will wave and smile/in the backseat of the car,/who will roll down the window/and let in the cold air?” And this phrase, one of many in which she adoringly writes about nature, in this case in Place Voges: “diagonals of light/inside the square/& circles/ of swallows swooping/& children skipping/& and the drunken/sans sabri under the arches/” Especially beautiful are her evocations of the sea: “A great plateful of gray,/shifting its distances, its shivering/lid of air,/ and draughts of white…” Finally her poem What’s There:
to write but the daily/walk to the beach the look at the sky, the seals,/the black mass of cyperesses, the rocks—-
and even there, in the landscape, what’s to say?/A gust of nearly microscopic fruit flies
from the harvest down the road/fills the house with dancing others who/swim in my wine, skitter and skate
at the edge of everything:/why bother to write that down?/What else is new? What else is there to say?
Let go of this leaky pen is what I say./Wipe your hands on your apron/Stand in the doorway. Turn off the oven.
Regard the moon.