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Jack Gilbert

Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina


There was no water at my grandfather's

when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people's house was before

they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor's cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out of shape.

I see myself, but from the outside.
I keep trying to feel who I was,
and cannot. Hear clearly the sound
the bucket made hitting the sides

of the stone well going down,
but never the sound of me.



Editor's Note: There is a story of Gilbert, likely apocryphal, in which a student of his asked him what he in his old age could still know about love. Gilbert leaned over the seminar table and began to choke his student, at least sparing him the lesson about how it feels to lose someone.

The man had a gift for communicating passion, whether about the end of a relationship or the death of his wife, or, in the case of "Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina," his lost youth. The language is spare and uncomplicated, the emotions have no shred of self-doubt, and so there is nothing to muffle the nuance of the feeling or to muzzle the intensity that comes out in its sounds. Gilbert passed away on November 11, at 87. He will be missed.
—Adam Plunkett


"Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina" was reprinted with permission from Alfred A/ Knopf, publishers.


Posted in: Poetry

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