A Brief for the Defense by Jack Gilbert


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.

From REFUSING HEAVEN (Knopf, 2005)


Warp and Weft

Losing dear ones,
you can’t believe they’re gone.
It’s just a dream,
a joke, you think,
you’ll wake
before too long.

So many feelings swirling ‘round:
what was or wasn’t said,
what could have been,
what never will,
the mem’ries in your head.

The dearest ones they left behind,
so numb,
yet wide awake.
Eternal plan,
what is it now?
From here,
it’s hard to take.

Do tell,
is there another way
to justify the pain
of promised futures
never met,
dew mists
unborn to rain?

If bigger pictures do exist,
why can’t we see from here:
the mystery behind the veil,
beyond the pale, the clear?

When someone has been good in life,
Their parting makes a split
In sacred cloth that holds us tight,
Together, warp and weft.

Together, we must make repairs,
so no one else falls through,
and use the care we feel in loss
to weave ourselves anew.

Each one of us, a single thread,
much stronger intertwined;
we pass them through and lace them in
the blanket of our mind.

—by Jan Mundo 1/14/06, 12/15/12, 1/12/13

Losing Elle

How wonderful, community—
Dear ones to talk to
in mournful times.
Even when it’s been a while,
there’s someone receiving
with whom I can blend.

A shared history
brings memory with an open heart,
plus the hurt of it, too.
Yet without loving, family, tribe,
the loss would not arise.

What a shock!
I still can’t fathom you’re gone,
nor imagine the world
without you in it.

We’ll just have to talk
in that heavenly mode.
We know the channel—
sadly and happily, we do.

Farewell, little bird!
Back to your nest
for restful peace,
the one you’ve searched for.
Fly on home, dear!

Jan Mundo 2/24/11