Thursday, July 7, 2016

When the Locomotive of the Lord Runs Us Down

No Lifeguard On Duty

Two more black men shot in cold blood by police, children watching. What more is there to say? Our awareness might be nothing but illusion. "Awareness" Awareness, emphasized, italicized. We watch the grainy footage with nothing but cliche hearts rising to throats and sinking to pits of stomach. We are disconnected from one another by technology yet connected down to the infinitesimal by the same. What more is there to say? Does an open heart allow more sadness to be held or does more sadness make the heart open?

A Brief For The Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
Jack Gilbert


  1. That poem was one of Dan's favorites. We went through the collected works together, and A Brief for the Defense and Say You Love Me came out on top. We are living in times of plenty and convenience where so many things are easier than they've ever been and yet we can't find the tools to excavate into the bedrock of our hatred and fear and set things right. I don't know what to do.

  2. "We must admit there will be music despite everything." I love that.

  3. Denise, so glad you and Elizabeth can articulate all the thoughts in my head that are too jumbled with tears and anger and shock to emerge.

  4. Perfect poem for my current state-of-mind. Watched the evening news last night and then watched Spolight on Netflix. Still reeling.

  5. This is where my thoughts have been all week.
    But never in a million years could I have articulated any of them in the way in which this beautiful poem does.
    Your poems always seem to come along at just the right time.
    Thank you x



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