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for Carolyn Grace

When she sits at the kitchen table
while she talks her hands seem to balance
in the air faithful at the level of
her words; she is careful what she says.
The morning sun through the window strikes
her skin, shows how the faint lines in her
palms will come to deepen like corduroy
cloth to fit the weather of her age.
Still a young woman, she has to work
the graveyard shift, sleeps what is left
then wakes to get the kids to school.
It must be morning when she dreams.
Peering into her coffee’s surface
she looks back from its depth, her hands
caught holding an implement, a fossil of
her life: Alabama born, feelings
huddled north, these steel cities this cold month,
her dark soul twisting into fingers
whose motion at this brown angle
is the slow fall flight of leaves through time.
And she rises with the gesture, and
the oil in her hands is necessity’s
sweat: each hand on the tabletop
a work cloth rubbing the other fine
wooden one.

Christopher Gilbert, “She” from Across the Mutual Landscape. Copyright © 1984 by Christopher Gilbert. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.
Source: Across the Mutual Landscape (Graywolf Press, 1984)
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  • Christopher Gilbert was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Lansing Michigan. He earned a BA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1972, and later obtained a PhD in psychology from Clark University in Massachusetts in 1986.
    Gilbert soon became a prominent figure in the Boston and Cambridge poetry circles, participating in the Free People’s Poetry Workshops, created by poet Etheridge Knight. His poetry collection Across the Mutual Landscape (1984) received the 1983 Walt Whitman Prize from the Academy of American Poets, gaining him further recognition. Alan Williamson, in a review of Across the Mutual Landscape for the New York Times, described Gilbert as a “careful, craftsmanly writer.” Williamson also noted how Gilbert’s “subtle, syncopated rhythms made one think of jazz; but the syncopation is made audible, often, by the underlying presence of meter,” revealing his many musical influences.
    His other awards included the Robert...

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