Second Thoughts

By Albert Goldbarth b. 1948 Albert Goldbarth

1862: Dante Gabriel Rossetti buried his young wife Elizabeth Rossetti with a sheaf of his unpublished poems.

. . . and then of course the weeping: some demurely, some
flamboyantly. Those elegiac tears, if shed
enough, will alter a face and the person
behind the face. We all know that erosion

is a mighty thing, and even—for example—
the seemingly permanent, hard-black Mississippi banks
undo and slip south. In a sense, the delta
at New Orleans—the land gone silt, and rebuilt—

is the Mississippi’s second thought. “My pet,
your wiles have altered my earlier obstinacy,
and the vision of you in your luxury stateroom beckons;
I shall join you for your voyage on the Gigantic

—what? oh. Titanic”—is a tragic second thought.
A happy one: when Skyler and I decided to try again
to “save the marriage.” Now we’re lazing in a pour
of Sunday morning light as orangely voluptuous

as marmalade. A simile’s a first thought,
then an equaled next. She slips back into sleep,
and now I’m reading about the night that shady London dandy
Charles Augustus Howell (1869) unshoveled the grave

at Highgate, broke the coffin, and looted her bone breast
of “the book in question, bound in rough gray calf, and with
red edges to the leaves,” on eager orders from Rossetti
—who’d had second thoughts in seven years, desiring

to publish now a volume of his verses (1870, Poems).
Lizzie’s death-stenched pages were saturated
with disinfectant by a medical practitioner “who
is drying them leaf by leaf”—and then they joined the world

of woven radish baskets, bobbered fishing skeins, and god dolls
in their second life as art on a museum wall; a world where
the “conversion pool” saw swimmers step in white robes
from its farther end, reborn to new religion; and the lumbering

land animals said no, and gave up legs, and so their legs rolled up
like stored-away and useless rugs inside them, and they returned
to the waters, and birthed and breached in the waters,
and made the waters their orchestral glory,

and spouted out their great Ionic columns of air and water
in the touch of the changing mind of Earth,
that’s sunlit at times
and at other times darkened.

Albert Goldbarth, “Second Thoughts” from Saving Lives. Copyright © 2001 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted with the permission of The Ohio State University Press,

Source: Saving Lives (Ohio University Press, 2001)

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Poet Albert Goldbarth b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Albert  Goldbarth


Acclaimed for its dense, expansive form and linguistic energy, Albert Goldbarth’s poetry covers everything from historical and scientific concerns to private and ordinary matters. His numerous, highly-regarded collections are often filled with long poems which range in style from playful and conversational to serious and philosophical. Goldbarth’s unique style is a mix of complex ideas and detailed descriptions woven together . . .

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POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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