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Margaret Gibson

Margaret Gibson was born in Richmond, Virginia. She received a BA from Hollins College and an MFA from the University of Virginia. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including Not Hearing the Wood Thrush (LSU Press, 2018); Broken Cup (LSU Press, 2014), a finalist for the 2016 Poets' Prize; The Vigil: A Poem in Four Voices (LSU Press, 1993), a finalist for the National Book Award; and Long Walks in the Afternoon (LSU Press, 1982), a Lamont Poetry Selection. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize, Gibson was named the poet laureate of Connecticut in 2019. She is Professor Emerita at the University of Connecticut, and lives in Preston, Connecticut.

Read about Margaret Gibson’s 2020 Poets Laureate Fellowship project.

By This Poet


Autumn Grasses

In fields of bush clover and hay-scent grass
the autumn moon takes refuge
The cricket's song is gold

Zeshin's loneliness taught him this

Who is coming?
What will come to pass, and pass?

Neither bruise nor sweetness nor cool air
knows the way

And the moon?
Who among us does not wander, and flare
and bow to the ground?

Who does not savor, and stand open
if only in secret

taking heart in the ripening of the moon?

(Shibata Zeshin, Autumn Grasses, two-panel screen)

Losing It

What little I know, I hold closer, 
more dear, especially now
that I take the daily
reinvention of loss as my teacher.
I will never graduate from this college,
whose M.A. translates
“Master of Absence,”
with a subtext in the imperative:
Misplace Anything.
If there’s anything I want, it’s that more
people I love join the search party.
You were once renowned
among friends for your luck
in retrieving from the wayside
the perfect bowl for the kitchen,
or a hand carved deer, a pencil drawn
portrait of a young girl
whose brimming innocence
still makes me ache.  Now
the daily litany of common losses
goes like this:  Do you have
your wallet, keys, glasses, gloves,
giraffe?  Oh dear, I forgot
my giraffe—that’s the preferred
response, but no:  it’s usually
the glasses, the gloves, the wallet.
The keys I’ve hidden. 
I’ve signed you up for “safe return”
with a medallion (like a diploma)
on a chain about your neck.

Okay, today, this writing, 
I’m amused by the art of losing.  
I bow to Elizabeth Bishop, I try 
“losing faster”—but when I get 
frantic, when I’ve lost
my composure, my nerve, my patience, 
my compassion, I have only
what little I know
to save me.  Here’s what I know:
it’s not absence I fear, but anonymity.
I remember taking a deep breath, 
stopped in my tracks.  I’d been
looking for an important document 
I had myself misplaced; 
high and low, no luck yet.  
I was “beside myself,”
so there may have indeed been
my double running the search party.
“Stop,” you said gently.  “I’ll go
get Margaret.  She’ll know where it is.”
“But I’m Margaret,” I wailed.
“No, no.” You held out before me
a copy of one of my books,
pointing to the author’s photograph,
someone serious and composed.
“You know her.  Margaret 
Gibson, the poet.”  We looked 
into each others’ eyes a long time. 
The earth tilted on its axis, 
and what we were looking for,
each other and ourselves,
took the tilt, and we slid into each others’ arms, 
holding on for dear life, holding on. 

One Body

            I am born in a field
of cornflowers and ripe wheat
            wind in the black gum trees            
                        late afternoon before the storm
and the men are cutting the field
            working the mower in circles
                        coming in and in
toward the center of the field
            where I crouch down
                        with the rabbits, with the quail
driven into this space by the clackety mower
            because I want to see
                        how the body goes still
how the mind, how the lens of the eye
            magnifies to an emptiness
                        so deep, so flared wide
there is everywhere field and the Source
            of field, and only
                        a quiver of the nose
or the flick of a top-knot feather, a ripple
            so faint I may have imagined it, says
                        yes, says no
to the nearing rustle in the last stand of wheat—
            and now it’s quiet, too quiet
                        a soft trample
a click, the cocking sound, a swish
            as the men steal in to take
                        what they want
they are clever, they are hungry
            and because this one body is
                        my birthplace
my birthright, my only homeplace
            my nest and burrow and bower
                        I understand
my mother is wheat, my father is wind
            and I rise in a tall gust
                        of rage and compassion
I rise up from the mown and edible
            debris of the world
                        wrapped in a bright
net of pollen and stars, my thighs
            twin towers of lightning
                        and my voice
I am a storm of voices, snipe and wolf
            snow goose, dolphin, quail, and lark—
                        Stop this. Stop it now
I say to the men, who stalk closer
            keen on the kill, late light
                        on the steel of their rifles
and they are my brothers—they are my brothers
            and I love them, too
                        Look into my eyes
I tell them. See for yourself the one shining field
            Look into my eyes
                        before you shoot