Poems by Gray Jacobik

Gray taught here from 1989 to 1991, and the years she spent at Eastern were very important for me. She started a writers' group that taught me so much about living and thinking like a writer that I can't imagine what my life would have been like without her energy and intelligence and goodness.

She left here for Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut, and continued writing the poems that have made her just one of the best poets around. They've appeared in places like Best American Poetry 1997 & 1999, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, Ontario Review, The Georgia Review, Connecticut Review and Ploughshares. Her book, The Double Task, University of Massachusetts Press (1998), received The Juniper Prize and was nominated for The James Laughlin Award and The Poet's Prize. The Surface of Last Scattering, published by Texas Review Press (1999) was selected by X. J. Kennedy as the winner of the X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize. Brave Disguises received the AWP Poetry Series Award for 2001 and is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press. The poems below are taken from that new collection.

If you haven't read her poems, you're in for an absolute delight.--John Guzlowski

The Three Eyes

When I look at you with the eye of flesh
I feel a warm hand just above my pubis
and another in the middle of my back.
I see small creatures running in circles—
they race or dance—quick with pleasure.

When I look at you with the eye of mind,
I see dogwoods repeating a succession
of bud, bloom, berry—and nimble light
dividing seamlessly through a prism.
Your understanding nature rises
like a moon over a stonewhite cliff.
Your thought ruffles the kingdom of birds.

When I look at you with the eye of spirit
you begin to vanish. Words shuffle by
like miners drudging to and from work.
A sycamore drenched in the patchy brocade
of its branches is abuzz with madrigals.
How radiant you are! What's been funneled
through fifteen billion years of starlight
are the migrations of animals, the regenerative
cycles of trees, moonrise, moonset, flight
and labor, a man who opens his arms to me.


Pigs on the Town


The pig was once New York's official street sweeper.
I remember this when I walk down those narrow
streets below Delancy, streets that stop, pick up

again, move in indefinite directions—old Tory
New York. I enjoy considering how Whitman
on his many jaunts might have regarded these

trotting foragers and attended to their grunting
vagaries. They slept in alleys or behind taverns
or tenements, snouts at rest near overrunning

privies or beside slaughterhouses. Early mornings
Whitman must have heard first snorts, the grunts
gathering, the hoofs clattering on cobblestones

as a pack began its dawn-to-dusk rovings.
They ransacked crates of spoiled cabbages,
bins of potato or fruit peels, knocked over

buckets of ashes and slop the night-soil men
hadn't yet collected. They were ravenous
for the tossed bones and scraps of their butchered

kin, the discarded entrails of cattle and sheep.
Peter Stuyvesant first ordered herds of swine
led through the streets as garbage removers;

by Whitman's time they'd overwhelmed
their pens and lived unmolested, although one
could spot dog-mangled ears, tails chewed by rats.

Humans would bound out of their way, troubled
not to brush trouser or skirt against a filthy
splotchy-brown hock or flank. Those whom

Deuteronomy forbid keep or eat pigs, would
freeze at the sight of them. Even on Sundays
New Yorkers could gaze out the windows

of their churches and see, swilling through
graveyards, God's cleft-hoofed scavengers
defecating at will, hear them mock their prayers

with guttural chortles and oinks, remote,
intractable. Whitman must have relished
how porcine nature could affront those who

put on airs, delighted in creatures blind
to ceremony, bold before carter and drayman,
deaf to fishmonger and preacher. I imagine

he floated his soul out toward them and joined
with them, especially when hogs or sows
with piglets wallowed in a mid-street mudhole.



I've always enjoyed watching the jouncing breasts
of a woman walking, the easy rise and fall of flesh,
so motherly or erotic, anatomy most personal,
and yet, at times, given so freely to lover or infant,
or palpitated by the inquiring hands of the physician,
flattened between the glass and steel of the x-ray,
fatty, duct-rich, nodular, capillarial, the biopsied
or augmented or reshaped, vulnerable to infection,
cyst, tumor; achingly tender at times and too
obvious or not noticeable enough, the coupled
(if she's wearing a bra) or uncoupled (if she's not)
harmonic oscillations, marked by size, firmness,
color of aureole, sign, signal, burden, shame,
always becoming old woman's dugs, striated,
bulbous, drooping downward with age, unlovely,
grotesque, nipples attenuated or inverted,
the body now barren-all this in that graceful
motion, a woman walking past, ageless, primordial,
a Lilith, Miriam or Ruth, mother, sister, wife,
friend, an ordinary being, her breasts jouncing.


Man Sleeping On
The West Coast Of Ireland

On his right side, half-curled, knees high,
left arm shielding his face, snoring lightly,
he no longer hears the buffeting winds toss
and tumble the lays of birds, nor the children's
high-pitched calls, nor the baaing of infant goats.
All this going on and sunlight after two days
of showers, and he's dull in such a deep
woolgathering, heedless to the crashing surf,
gull's curlicues of caws, the scuff and scuttle
of a million tourists piling in and out of rental
cars, snapping scenic shots, pulling aside
on narrow roads in car-passing pirouettes
of courtesy. The man sleeps dressed, with socks
and watch on, on a pillow, on a bedspread.
He sleeps because he's innocent of malice and
contempt, because he's earned this sleep,
rejuvenating, capacious, a rest dreamt of, required.
He sleeps so deeply a winding stream could divide
around his neck, a river's upper tributaries collide
across his chest, and where those narcomal waters
meet in feeder streams, in brooks, in creeks,
cross-currents flash with bits of turbulent dreams
his wife, watching him three days now, impatient
to see the world they've traveled so far to see,
can almost apprehend, as if what surrounded them
were dreamscapes more actual than the landscape
beyond the window, glints and flickers of an unseen,
there, in extreme sleep, potentiality first glimpsed.


"The Three Eyes," "Pigs on the Town," "Breats,"and "Man Sleeping on the West Coast of Ireland" from BRAVE DISGUISES, by Gray Jacobik, © 2002, Gray Jacobik. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15261. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.


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