Linda said, “You live ten minutes away,
why wouldn’t you want
to visit Jack Gilbert, get to know him?
Take him some unhealthy food,
whatever he likes. That’s how
I came to know Brodsky, Milosz, Stern.”
I wasn’t born to fuck the stars, I didn’t say,
or eat nothing but lentils for years in a Greek hut —
(also, I thought, I doubt
if he is interested in visits from men.)
“Or, call and ask if he’d like to go
to the Miss Florence Diner for New England boiled dinner.”
So, a mistake, I did call, said I was
a poet friend of Linda’s.
There arose a long silence, followed by
“I don’t. Know what. To say.”
But Linda’s next visit we tried again, met at Jack’s
over Henry and Noele’s garage.
Old-man room, yellow underwear
washed in the sink and drying and his mind
unsteady, but full of letters
I would have paid to read.
She and I smoked too much, is what I remember,
and he questioned me as to whether I loved
differently because I loved men, which I don’t know
how he knew. I said I thought not,
and thought a little less of him, which is a thing
I’d been afraid of. A copy of my first book
given him minutes ago he then signed
with his own name, precarious,
and handed back to me.
This awkwardness, which I had tried so hard to avoid,
how to finesse it now? By drawing an arrow
from my signed name to his, adding the formula
“an honor to spend a morning with,” and the date,
then sliding the book back to him.
After that I visited
only his books. But knowing always he was
just across the river.
to Linda as the reason the story Kevin had told
about Jack’s rebuke, ending their long friendship,
“This relationship is over,” his brutal side.
Then she had to move him to California,
and from a bad place there
to a better where he was visited at least weekly.
My copies of his books now
between Frost and Ginsberg.
The great fires.
But where, after all that,
is his copy of my book, my first,
which I signed and he signed?about the author