The body in pain, Gil Ott, ‘The Forgotten’ (PoemTalk #91)

Gil Ott PT McCreary McCarthy Sherlock

Al Filreis invited Pattie McCarthyFrank Sherlock and me to the Kelly Writers House to discuss a poem by beloved Philadelphia poet, & our dear friend, the late Gil Ott.

You can listen here.

Among the things I liked: that often when I saw Gil read, he’d open &/or close by singing:

The Moon Does Not Run On Gasoline

Gil Ott celebration at KWH

Gil was a more generous editor & publisher than I probably deserved–patient to a fault when Singing Horse published a doctrine of signatures, indulging my first book neuroses & keeping a straight face throughout a conversation during which I told him we needed to look at other typefaces because “this font makes my poems look fat.”

This is the poem I read at a celebration of his work in 2007:

THE WAR

Our smallness
factors in the cold and not
by opposition detonated
bodies of men, the prophetic
wing we’ll rise on,
who, men no less than we,
hold fire.
It is our smallness
frames criminal use
in the world, a world,
no world by famine trails
at random where the heat
speaks.
Small angelic accomplice
lost to night, fuse
an engine’s power to your threat
that we
remain divided.

Reduced
to the sun at noon
that steeple mechanism Bach

we wanted
a companionship,
equating solitude with labor,
the movements

of a beetle
who builds and in it
believes

himself the instrument.
An equivocal music, refined
to fit the hand,

soft exhalation
for the ear, on the other
end fire, perfectly made
cautionary science of its own end

in a mob, one
of the others
trampled

matrix of feet.
All the controls
and absent

victim
the daughters
extend no hand,
who themselves for centuries

molting:
gold
oil
radium

metropolis in ideal
stricture, the waters
and forest lacteal

borders of achievement.
Radio, synthetic
drop come through a sumac’s vein

burns on the burned
arms of the man responsible
surrendered, meek

music in his head.
Beauty in rain
a way to die
small

climb up this rock, hand
on a vine
dark
earth rips and sting a moment

on target.
Child trajectory, degrees
from rest rears

and thunders, strange
kin to alchemy
dammed

and wired
turns
the little mind

no longer a boat:
a model strung
binary, a unit of resistance
mesh

cap a man
to believe and act.
Weight contact
to the required tap

or glance,
kill rather than speak,
intimate

distance.
Push you down
stairs, climb

over an old man gasping, hand
on the railing
bright
shards on the wall

bleed when touched. Nothing
doing. Between deed
and the knowing
actor, speed

turn his fault,
machine his image
inert and unsubmissive, calibrate

it like us,
let it run,
be patient.

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