Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN EPISTLE TO ROBINSON JEFFERS, by MARGARET FERGUSON GIBSON



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AN EPISTLE TO ROBINSON JEFFERS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Sick at heart, I want poor bitch cassandra
Alternate Author Name(s): Gibson, Margaret
Subject(s): Jeffers, Robinson (1887-1962)


Sick at heart, I want poor bitch Cassandra,
your hawk-faced girl, to mutter in my stead
truth to power. Close on the cusp of the new century,

Jeffers, the public cant appalls -- but we will
test our warheads, eat poisoned meat, breed
armies of indolent self-congratulation,
and the greed . . . no wonder I pack off to the hills,
to hermitage, Appalachian and eastern,
a towering headland, stone that overlooks a valley

silence so milk-blue it could be an inland ocean
roiled by wind. At the monster's feet, there are left
the mountains, you wrote, one season of kettling hawks

and blood in the leaf. In raw, early spring I've seen
red-tails share a common branch, the larger female
only then less contentious. What follows that calm,

you knew, was appetite -- airborne, fierce
and free, sheer as fire. Were it so with our kind,
we'd use no rootless words -- our lives

would be our words. I, the song, I walk here,
the Modoc prayer, would be prelude to passion
and plenty. You'd have us embrace and relinquish --

no more scheming, hoarding things, no more
believing their occult power will protect us
from ourselves. Just yesterday, awkward and afraid,

I clambered down the rockface and came to rest
at the root of its towering bulk. Alone
beyond wanting, I looked up the rough

walls of that native stone, sure I could feel it,
the quiet thundering within the sheath of stone.
There was no shining forth and fearful symmetry,

no glory passing by that cleft of rock, no mystery
of God, that imagined rapture of patience and passion
younger I hungered to see.

Oh, but there were massive storm clouds, a great
wild shining, bridled -- naked power
compressed to stone. I reached out and touched

the simple truth of stone, and my body trembled,
as if met by a lover, summoned
into pain and darkness by an intrepid joy.

The massive mysticism of stone, you wrote,
having looked at it directly, worked with it, built
house and tower with it, hauling each stone from

the Pacific shore up the cliff, each stone cradled,
cursed, too, perhaps -- stone on stone piled toward
hawks overhead and the trade winds and the stars.

Pain can shine, you wrote. Beautiful, intolerable
God, you wrote, turning outward
into the whole splendor of things, wings and wave-worn

skerries, stars in the ocean of night, even
the treacheries of empire, and the greed, part of it.
There is in me, you wrote,

older and harder than life, and more impartial,
the eye that watched before there was ocean --
before stone, too.

Bite the lip, then. Mountain and sea, granite cliffs,
fire and the thunder of stone,
the kearing of wild hawks in the wind --

be faithful, you tell me, to these. Look on what is,
and be faithful. Tell no lies,
however splendid.







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