Selected Poems

· Creative Expression, Essays · , ,

by Margaret Gibson

Doing Nothing

I balance
on one foot, then the other,
reaching in for the pebbly berries
suspended on red whips and canes,
a lush clinging. On edge,
I reach in, the hone of a thorn
not unlike the whine
of mosquitoes beneath the leaves.
I pick my way in,
as if this discipline
has nothing to do with the moon
which last night opened
red, then paled
to the pale of a petal
in a still, black sky.
Slowly I pick my way in,
skillfully, a means that
has nothing to do with
doing harm
or with harvest.

For this moment, I forget
the pain that wants to
forget pain, and practice
touching lightly.
I watch my hands learn
their way past each
edge, each horizon,
lightly, touching
until between each berry
there is such space
I no longer have to hold
back, let go, or grasp.
Doing nothing, I
no longer wait for whole
other worlds to break open,
more beautiful than this one
whose wild darkness
stains my fingers,
my mouth, my tongue.


Keeping Still

Because I saw
my mother, tense or careless, snap the string of her necklace,
a spill of beads shooting round on the floor,

I thought stars were so—
beads that could therefore be gathered, in one place cupped,
the sky held in a single crystal.

What is as patient, as still
as that thought? I am listening to the traffic into Boston,
how is swells and falls, in the rain a sea rushing

past the dark house.
I have followed as far as I can, leaning out of my skin, past the red
shift of car lights, through the tidal dark clouds to a misting of stars,

reaching, wanting more.
Even the galaxies, restless, are rolling farther, each from each,
on the face of eternity moving, a sweep of bright cells

rinsed daily away.
My heart is not quiet. I want the faith that moves mountains.
I want the bright force that holds them still.

How can anyone stunned by the night’s consolation of stars
dare say, I have not seen what I want—
and yet, I say it.


In the Mountains

In the mountains, I listen—
tracing the way
mountains arch through
air without effort,
without artifice. Out here
I can almost understand
how mountains are
words said
at a height—actual
sound made manifest
as silence, a summons
I try to imitate
setting these words down,
keeping low in the power.

This morning I give
whatever slender means
I am—an eye without
self-pity, without anger—
to the lift of sun and mist
across the surface
of what seems to be repose,
to the mountains,
to the great standing-still
of thought
to whose center I feel
myself drawn.

Around me, peak after peak
the mountains circle,
the air thin and clear.
Not one leans out of itself
into next week’s sun.
Not one sinks
in my regard,
diminished to a stone
I can pocket
or keep in a bowl
with the rocks I collect
on the ridges as I walk.

In this pause, I ask to be turned,
circling the mountains
on a scale of wind and sun,
until I am once more
down on my knees at the lowest
rise, where the spring is,
listening, able to tell—
as the mountains flow
without flowing,
as the spring deepens
and stills
beneath its own precise
ripples and rills—
who breathes, who abides,
who rises, standing still.

Margaret Gibson is the author of six books of poetry, including The Vigil: A Poem in Four Voices, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Preston, Connecticut and Bradford, Pennsylvania.

All poems are from Earth Elegy: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Margaret Gibson. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

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