"Out of his whole career of unswerving devotion to poetry,
"Words to Accompany a Bunch of
"Little Porch at Night"
Cortland Review Audio Clips
" Late December"
"An Old Man's Winter Night"
Gibbons Ruark's poems have appeared widely for nearly forty years in magazines like Ploughshares, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and Poetry, and in various anthologies and texts. They have also won the poet frequent awards, including three Poetry Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Pushcart Prize. Previously collected in A Program for Survival, Reeds, Keeping Company, Small Rain, Forms of Retrieval, and Rescue the Perishing, seventy of them appear in Passing Through Customs: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1999.
Poems from Passing Through Customs
Postscript to an Elegy
What I forgot to mention was the desultory
Unremarkable tremor of the phone ringing
Late in the day, to say you were stopping by,
The door slung open on your breezy arrival,
Muffled car horns jamming in the neighborhood,
Our talk of nothing particular, nothing of note,
The flare of laughter in a tilted wineglass.
Or we would be watching a tavern softball game
And you would come short-cutting by, your last hard mile
Dissolving in chatter and beer on the sidelines.
How did that Yankee third baseman put it, tossing
His empty glove in the air, his old friend
Sheared off halfway home in an air crash? "I thought
I'd be talking to him for the rest of my life."
Talk as I may of quickness and charm, easy laughter,
The forms of love, the sudden glint off silverware
At midnight will get in my eyes again,
And when it goes the air will be redolent still
With garlic, a high note from Armstrong, little shards
That will not gather into anything,
Those nearly invisible flecks of marble
Stinging the bare soles of the curious
Long after the statue is polished and crated away.
The Enniskillen Bombing
Remembrance Day, 1987
"Showery with bright periods," said the forecast,
The way it does so many days in Ireland,
And indeed the arrowy soft rain fell
And the clouds parted more often than not
Above that watery parish, and the farmer
Walked in collarless from Derrygore,
The butcher left his awning snug against the lintel,
Two boys forgot their caps on the orchard wall.
Nobody looking at the sky or listening
To the weather would ever have predicted
That thunder would erupt before the lightning,
Blow the whole end gable of St. Michael's out
And bring the roof spars raining piecemeal down—
Not the slow-tempered grocer gone open-mouthed
With or without a cry as the windows roared,
Not the stooped pharmacist red-faced with grief,
Not the veteran of two World Wars in all
His ribbons, scrabbling with his raw bare hands
Through the choking dust for anybody's heartbeat,
Not the father wandering almost blindly,
Eyebrows seared from his face, who found his son
Still breathing only to knock the tip of his stick
Against his daughter's wedding ring, her splintered
Hand upturned in the rubble incarnadine
As the fuchsia banking a rain-swept roadside.
Before It Happened
One afternoon a friend from the Falls and I
Drove out from Sligo into Enniskillen
For a quiet drink among old lamps and mirrors,
The glancing talk conspiratorial
As wives at the half-doors, silences freighted,
Lamplight pooled with sunlight on the polished bar,
The street outside a cleared-out Control Zone.
Across the street and up the narrow stair,
In a room with spring light swimming in the windows,
Fine as lace and firm as Blake's engravings,
The paintings of a dozen Irish wildflowers,
One after one, hung cleanly on the wall.
My friend the country walker, botanizer
Reared in the gutted streets of West Belfast,
Called everyone by name from memory.
Bogbean, pipewort, grass of Parnassus,
Harebell looking so fragile it might tatter
In a breeze, yet stubborn as the stone ones
High on the capitals at Corcomroe.
We came downstairs into the slant of evening
And drove away in the unmolesting dark.
As we left behind the small lights of the town,
The voice at the wheel was naming constellations,
Orion, Cassiopeia, where they wavered
At first, then spread their nets of stars in the night wind.
We are beginning one more time this evening,
Leaving our daughters and letting our lives
Uneasily down the hillside, leaning
Northward, where the moon means nothing to the heaves
Of stone that lie there starlit when the moon is gone.
One more time this evening the river leaves
The town alone to darkness watering the stones
Of faces down by the old poet's stinking riverbank.
In a little church whose walls fall sheer down
Into the riverbed, a couple of blank
Young thugs in leather jackets and their handsome man
In a midnight suit are laughing and clanking
Around in the parts of the ancient organ.
What do they know, we turn and ask each other.
When we turn back the one in midnight has begun
To touch a Bach Toccata like a lover.
One thug is gone, the other turns the pages
And eyes his dark companion, like a brother
Who lies back quietly in the dim-lit passages,
Then lends his hand with an assassin's skill.
In organ-light our vision of him ages;
We are shocked that he is nothing but a child.
With a little rotten luck, he could have gone all
Bloody piecemeal in Milano, killed,
Harsh headlights whipping the bloodlit wall.
Born in another country, he could be lying
Face up under water with only a reed to tell
The air his fatherland where his life is hiding.
Turning those pages, he is nothing but a boy,
Yet he knows well enough the skills of dying
To spend his evenings with a genius of joy.
Love, if we have listened, we will wander
Uphill to our daughters' eyes closed by the oil
Of youth and gladness, stare at them and wonder
As we lay a blessing on their breathing
Before we lay one other on each other.
This evening one more time it may be easy,
But it may not be, if we remember
All the trouble it took that organ wheezing
Before its small pipes rose into the reeds they are
And uttered a long low rustle from their nest
Down by that lonesome poet's stinking river,
Following an old inflection so a tossed
And driven man might find a breathing place.
Bright stars hollow the moon-bone, your loveliness
Hollowing the mouth-piece of my face.
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More Praise for
Passing Through Customs: New and Selected Poems
"Gibbons Ruark has arrived at full maturity and mastery, at the place where he has his own inimitable voice. He has fluency, consistency, and the 'fine excess' that Keats said poetry should surprise us with....This is major work, and Ruark is a major poet."
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Those beads of lapis, even the classical
Pull up a porch chair
next to this chaise longue.
A summer night,
and something has gone wrong
A mother should
be standing with her long
That vacant angle
where a hammock hung
Summon the fireflies,
matches struck and gone,
For down there in
the shallows should be strung
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