A Close Reading Of Gilbert’s “Trying To Have Something Left Over”

(Editor’s Note: I’ve been wanting to write this for a while. This post has been sitting in my “drafts” for literally months, largely because I’ve been trying to figure out how to start it. Any performer, artist, writer would readily tell you that starting is among the scariest, most difficult parts of any creative endeavor.

For me, that makes it also the most fun part. Enjoy, as I try and struggle my way into elegance.)

A Close Reading of Gilbert’s “Trying To Have Something Left Over”.

If you’re into poetry at all, or even if you’re not and you just like neat, beautiful ideas, one poem you need to read is “Trying to have something left over” by Jack Gilbert.

Plenty has been written about the final lines of this poem, which you can buy as part of Gilbert’s collection “The Great Fires” on Amazon. I’d encourage you to. I’ve read enough poetry at this point in my young life to know that this collection is something special. Not because of how it speaks to me, because Gilbert had a mind and life much different from mine. His life, his views on love all were more realistic, more honest, more complete than mine are.

Maybe that was because he wrote these poems starting when he was 57. Maybe he was just less stubborn than I was, a better steward of a tougher life’s lessons than myself.

But I digress. Whatever the many causes for the beauty of his work, especially this collection, and even more especially this poem, Gilbert wrote something in it I wish to analyze, and imagine with you for just a moment.

The last nine lines go like this, as he talks about playing with the baby of a woman he had an extramarital affair with:

“I would say Pittsburg softly each time before
throwing him up. Whisper Pittsburg with
my mouth against the tiny ear and throw
him higher. Pittsburg and happiness high up.
The only way to leave even the smallest trace.
So that all his life her son would feel gladness
unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined
city of steel in America. Each time almost
remembering something maybe important that got lost.”

-from “Trying To Have Something Left Over” by Jack Gilbert.

These lines have been burned in my brain since I read them. I like other poems in the collection more, (or at least, so I’ve always thought). But what strikes me most in this poem is something marvelous that’s happening.

Gilbert, in the events above, is taking care of a child of a woman he can never have a relationship with (per the rest of the poem before these lines) and a child who is not, in my understanding, his. Yet he cares so much about that child and that city that he wants that child to feel happiness forever on the mention of its name.

That in itself is beautiful.

The idea he’d care so much about a place, and an idea behind it, to engrain that in the mind of a small child. Something mattered deeply to Gilbert about Pittsburg. Sure, it was his hometown, but the final lines of the poem suggest more than just nostalgia. They suggest a bigger idea. An idea Gilbert was desperate to pass on, desperate to keep alive in any way possible or necessary because whatever it was, it was something beautiful, good, important.

The boy will never know what it was. He’ll never know why the utterance of the word “Pittsburg” brings him joy, having never been able to remember his infant laughs as Gilbert threw him up each time when he was a baby. All he’ll know is that there’s something wonderful there. But he’ll never know what it was. And the most beautiful part of this concept?

Neither will we as readers.

That’s why I write you today. I read this poem and I see the marvelous, poetic beauty Gilbert has engineered with these lines.

We see Gilbert throwing up the small infant. We hear his laughter, see his smile, maybe we evenimagine his mother standing in the doorway looking with a sad smile at all of this, perhaps seeing Gilbert’s potential as a father and wishing they could have a future, even while knowing that they couldn’t.

But what we never hear Gilbert do is actually explain what he was trying to convey. We never learn what was so vital it needed to be etched in the memory of an infant. Gilbert never tells the baby, and also never tells us as readers.

That’s where the true beauty in these poems comes in: we as readers are the infant to this poet.

Gilbert can never have an individual relationship with any of us any more than he can with the young woman or her son. Gilbert the man has a wife whom he loves, precluding him from staying with her or the boy.

Gilbert the poet has a mortal life, unable to converse with most of those who will read his work. In each case, with the infant as the boy and the infant as the reader, Gilbert can only have a one-way relationship. All he can do is try to teach. Never ask, just tell.

So he does. He tells us about the beauty of trying to convey an idea through emotion because he lacks the ability of just explain it. Gilbert does not tell us why Pittsburg is so important to him. He does not tell us what idea he must pass through even just a partial memory. He does not tell us why he wants the baby, be it the child in the poem or the reader of the poetry, to feel joy every time they think of the “ruined city of steel in America.”

All any of us knows is that there’s some idea there that is worth celebrating, worth cherishing, worth holding a beer up to whenever we think of that place.

Too often, becoming an adult teaches us to ask “why” when invited to celebrate something. Adulthood teaches us not to celebrate unless we understand the whole reason for celebrating.

This poem asks us not to.

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Poetry: The Specter Of The Tarantula Wasp.

Keanu Reeves once as a character said
his biggest fear was quicksand: At first everything
is going fine then you make one mistake.
And another. And another.
You try to fight back
but the harder you fight the deeper you sink until you can’t
move, can’t
breath.
Like quicksand.

Such it is with love.
A beauty of metaphor that allows me no peace.

The specter of solitude haunts you.
Follows you. Lurks
in the shadows behind you.
As you take the solitary walks of shame
you’ve always taken,
whether at the base of Fort Bliss or the side streets of the Little Apple.
The ones you still take with alarming regularity.

You feel it: Solitude’s breath.
but you can’t do anything about it.

Love’s optimism beats through your veins
like a tarantula’s blood.
Love is the heartbeat.
Faith in Solitude’s eventual banishment is the organs.

Solitude itself is the tarantula-wasp.

You fight it when it first attacks
in your youth. You try not to let it get a hold.
You feel your first kiss like the tarantula feels when its jaws
grab hold of the deadly insect. You feel your heart flutter
with joy, with excitement, with the youthful optimism you might
live. And not just live, but life carelessly.

Love: the noble but flawed aspiration to simply take care and cherish another
is all that’s ever mattered. That solitary desire
has clung to your DNA like the spider now clings to the hope of life.

But just as quickly as you feel your first kiss
you feel yourself let go. You feel the wasp
wriggly free with haunting power. Your jaws slip
though you know you’ll die if they do. You try to will them
into holding. Into not make the single mistake
of insecurity.

But the wasp is already free.
And just like that it’s over.
Solitude stings you, and begins to drag you
paralyzed but still with a long life ahead
To its dark layer.

You already know what’s coming next. You also know you’re powerless
for all your strength, to prevent it.
So you try not to resent yourself for your failure
and brace yourself for the pain you’ve caused yourself.

The tarantula was drags you to its hole.
It stings you a second time, this time, leaving in your abdomen an egg.

You count your mistakes during the initial fight
like the lonely count their failed relationships. You feel
its larva: the idea of never being all you’ve ever wanted
start to consume:
Your optimism.
Your idealism.
All from the inside out
even while you’re still alive.

You chase away friendships as the larva starts to grow,
you lose confidence when you get a divorce,
knowing that for a split-second you had all you ever wanted,
and all you had to do was stop yourself from chasing it away
and you failed to do so.

You feel your heart, nerve, and sinew start to betray you
the way Kipling warned you never to do if you wished
to be have all the world, and everything in it and what was most
to be a man.
You lose all of it.

Until one day, one minute, one instant,
as you feel solitude’s larva about to consume the heart of your belief,
you realize God is watching, and you must be stubborn.
You decide to savor each breath and simply enjoy that you can breathe
however painful and tiring that may now be.

You take long walks
alone. Enjoy the architecture and the clouds.
You look longingly
at the wedding processional at Saint Isidore’s,
at the old couple, hands embraced, taking their own walk.

You look longingly at them, remind yourself
of the lyric you once learned, even though you didn’t have to, from Aida:
“I shall not envy lovers, but long for what they share.”

Then slowly, like the tarantula as it takes its final breath
you close your eyes. But where the spider now accepts its death
you set your heart to accepting your life
and somehow decide to keep eagerly waiting.

Giddy AF As I Finish Football Research

I feel so good it’s insane right now. A perfect cup of coffee in my favorite mug helps.

What helps even more is doing college football research.

I’m literally giddy AF right now.

Research means I’ll soon be writing previews about the season, and if I do well enough maybe that’ll help me get a job actually covering it, and if I do that well enough maybe it’ll lead to a career doing that!

I love feature writing, and maybe I can get a job after my current internship where I help cover news in the offseason, but sports is and truly always will be my first ambition and goal.

I know I’m raw, but I’m swooning at the prospect of possibility, and I’m loving my work this Saturday morning.
Time to finish up, stretch, and go find a waterfall.
Have a good day everyone.

Constitutionalist No. 2: The Need For A Congress We Can Trust

“(‘The late convention at Philadelphia’) composed of men who possessed the confidence of the people,, and many of whom had become highly distinguished by their patriotism, virtue and wisdom, in times which tried the minds and hearts of men, undertook the arduous task (of creating ‘a national government more wisely framed’). In the mild season of peace, with minds unoccupied by other subjects, they passed many months in cool, uninterrupted, and daily consultation; and finally, without having been awed by power, or influenced by any passions except love for their country, they presented and recommended to the people the plan produced by their joint and unanimous councils.” – Federalist No. 2, by John Jay.

Perhaps part of our biggest problem as a democracy is that we have gotten away from electing public servants who we trust.

Trust is an issue whether you look at the legislative branch, where approval ratings were near 19 percent back in January, or at the executive, where the President has made numerous decisions drawing the ire of Americans, such as his choice to leave the Paris accord last week. We as a nation seem to have lost faith in the patriotism of most of our politicians, a stark contrast from the way it was when America was formed.

Of course that’s partly due to the differing circumstances of the times. Our world was simpler to navigate in the 1700’s, if only because things took more time. Social media obviously wasn’t a thing and information only spread as fast as a rider with a letter could deliver one via horseback, which meant that decisions of government took longer to affect, and responses had to be given more time to be composed. That’s a far cry from now, when the people know of any decision by a government official mere seconds after it was made.

The debate over the advantages and disadvantages of each shall remain largely untouched here, but what I will say is that in dangerous times such as these, the speed of information gives the people new opportunities to make positive changes to their government.

I sincerely believe there is reason to hope for the United States.

When John Jay wrote his portion of The Federalist, there were far fewer senators than now if only because there were fewer states. Yet there have always been temptations which could cause a government official to stray from placing the best interests of the nation first. Those temptations now are at least as numerous as they ever were in Jay’s time, but true patriots do still exist in Congress. These men and women work in a way demonstrative of placing the good of the United States and its people ahead of their own.

I have long marveled at a few of the most readily available examples; men like John McCain, a republican out of Arizona, and Elizabeth Warren, a democrat out of Massachusetts.

I have also of late marveled at the power of the judicial branch of the United States, specifically for its ability to challenge both the executive and legislative branches.

Perhaps the most recently example comes from Monday, when the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed a decision by a lower court, shooting down the redrawing of 28 State House and Senate districts in North Carolina. The lower court had ruled that the districts, drawn in 2011 by the mostly-Republican legislature, were basically racist. They were drawn, the court ruled, with race as a predominate factor without compelling reason, thus violating “equal protection principles,” according to the New York Times.

The combination of strong stances by the courts, and the patriotism of certain members of Congress should give us hope. Hope that true patriots do still exist in our legislative bodies, and that our government can be made, perhaps more than ever, to function for the benefit of everyone, regardless of class, race or gender.

Barack Obama’s election stands as an example of the power we have to bring positive change to our government through voting. We only need wield it.

But we must wield it.

The future of America need not be written by old white men.

We are the generation lawfully able to empower women and minorities in a way no other generation has ever been able to. We can elect members of Congress who believe in this principle. Through technology, we can remind those we elect that this is what we as a culture want and desperately need. We are at a moment when we can make great strides for humanity by passing laws protecting unjustly-minimized populations in our society.

When those politicians don’t listen, we can and must refuse to reelect them.

We must promote those from within our communities who have earned our trust: those who believe in what we believe and will place our nation’s welfare above their own.

We must persist in this pursuit, until Congress again is filled by those who the people can rightly trust to look out for them, not just the wealthy ones.

All of this is lawfully and peaceably in our power, but we must be wise enough to start voting and stop sitting on the sidelines of history. There’s reason to hope and believe in our government, but for that to matter we must be brave enough to lawfully and deliberately act upon it.

Poetry: The Heart’s Memory

Absent friendship is bittersweet
at nighttime.
The way the sun feels in summer in the middle
of the night, with the humidity, the warmth, and the echoing sounds
of darkness, and silence interrupted
only by police sirens.

These things tantalize us, remind us:
of our frailty, of our vulnerability,
of our desperate need to courageously embrace
solitude.
Yet they remind us love can exist
even when friendship ceases, is chased away, is awkwarded
into nonexistence.

Long after the sun has set,
Long after the protection of presence
has faded like the sun over the horizon,
and the elegant hue of intellectual, loving conversations
should have long ago faded from memory,
still Love can remain.

Still Love can echo what the heart wishes it could remember.

Constitutionalist No. 1: The Introduction

Let me just come out with a question recently on the front of my tongue here lately, uncensored and blunt: Could it be that America is destined to prove democracy can’t in fact work?

Could it be that in 100 years, other countries will be look back on our nation not in the present tense but in the past, as the frayed memory of what was once the world’s foremost military and economic power before it collapsed upon itself? Could we be the one other countries then point to and say “See, our form of government is superior because clearly republican democracy and capitalism can’t work!”

History is rife with examples of governments failing, regardless of the form they took. It teaches that every form of government is at least equally frail as such a hypothetical democracy might have proven in the future to be, but by then that concern would have passed. Self-rule: The idea of a government operated by representatives chosen by and for the people, would have proven unfeasible in the eyes of the larger world, and thus so would the idea of a government based on so many important concepts fundamental to our unique empire, specifically one founded on what the Founding Fathers envisioned as universal equality.

The idea of freedom of speech, an independent-of-state community of journalists, the right to bear arms, the concept of a government both powerful yet limited in power by a written, established order of checks and balances; all those things would be gone, and would serve simply as evidence in a case study against the failed prospect of self-governance within humanity. The idea of a nation by the people and for the people, would have irrevocably proven impossible.

Will we allow ourselves to be the generation historically remembered for allowing this to happen?

Do not mistake my words as hyperbolic. With the election of 2016, the people of the United States chose a president who now leaves the rest of the world concerned about the state of American leadership. Our nation, once a proud light in a dark world, now threatens to depart from the very wax that allowed that candlelight to grow. Our standing as a “melting pot,” a place where the oppressed could find refuge, where the tired, weak, broken and ignored could find safety and shelter, has all been brought into question by the leadership we as a nation have chosen.

In Federalist No. 1, Alexander Hamilton wrote “The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.”

Hamilton published those words regarding the ratification of the U.S. Constitution back in 1787, yet they are equally pertinent today.

Despite the 2016 election, and perhaps because of it, the U.S. is at least as politically divided now as it was back in the 1700’s, as the nation debated whether to become a nation at all. Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist for the Washington Post, recently wrote about the plight of the national opinion on politics. She quoted former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer as saying “Most Americans absorb Washington news with an approach of ‘wake me up when you stop fighting.'”

Yet we as a nation do not have the luxury of sleeping in until 11 a.m. on this issue. This is not an issue we can take a vacation from, not one which we can set aside like a vegetable we don’t want to eat, like a budget we can wait until September to pass.

This is an issue we must face now. We must, as a public, wake up and discuss our nation’s ideological future as vitally as we confront our individual budgets each day or week or month.

Other issues at hand include questions such as “Is it still noble to be a refuge for immigrants from around the world?” and “Should we commit the necessary resources to welcoming those immigrants?”

The answer to those questions is “yes.”

We as a nation must, I reiterate: must, now look inward and renew our resolve toward being the greatest nation on the planet again, evidenced by our stance toward the oppressed, forgotten, and in need. It IS still noble to be a safe-haven for the tired, and the abandoned of this world. We as a country are built upon the principle of every person’s freedom to pursue Life, Liberty, Happiness, and depending upon your perspective of history, property. It is vital we recommit to preserving these ideals, and evolving the ideal that all men and women are created equal. These are the concepts we are now called upon to recommit to exemplifying. The eyes of eternity will judge us for our next efforts.

The choice we should make is not an easily-executed one. The American citizen, as evidenced by the quote above, is more distrusting of the current government than perhaps ever before in our history.

People don’t vote now because they don’t see the point in voting between two bad options (as evidenced by voter turnout between the 2008 election, when America had  seemingly two good presidential candidates and 2016’s, when many citizens would argue the country had none). People don’t vote now because as the last election demonstrated, the popular vote in America does not necessarily determine the winner of the election because of the whole “electoral college” thing.

People don’t vote anymore because we don’t believe our little vote matters in the national election.

Yet the individual vote’s perceived insignificance is a reason to become MORE involved in the electoral process, not less. With the current results of the recent election, the question lurking below the surface in the people’s subconsciousness might boil down to “Why does what we have matter? With all this political corruption, how can a person say our government is really the best model, or even that the founding concepts were right?”

I believe they are, and henceforth aspire to argue on their behalf.

I have no illusions about the flaws in our government or in the system, I’m not naive. But I am a patriot, one who believes in the ideas of self-rule by and for the people. Above all, I believe our nation is great, not because of the flawed and mortal men and women who may administer our government, but because of the overwhelming principles and the flexible nature of the document all public officials swear to uphold and defend: The United States Constitution. I believe in our overwhelming ability as a citizenry to, when called upon as we are now, to affect change upon even the system itself so it becomes increasingly better with age.

I believe in the justness of the sacrifices so many men have made defending others from oppression on that very Constitution’s behalf, many of whom the Americans will honor tomorrow as part of Memorial Day.

In the coming essays in this series, I seek to make a solid, educated argument to this effect. I seek to answer the questions above, to create an open forum in which we as a public can have a grounded, educated discussion about what the United States does and should stand for, and how best to ensure the unity of the two. I also present consideration as to how we might best alter certain governmental procedures to accommodate the pursuit of living by our ideals; namely discussing the electoral college and if/why it should either continue to exist procedurally or be altered in a way that allows the popular vote to matter more.

Above all, I seek to convince the reader that the American cause is a noble one, and the United States government, despite the occasional failings and flaws of the men and women who operate it, is worth not only preserving, but improving, and that now more than ever, we must elect to do promptly do so.

Turning A Page Through High School Sports

I wake up this morning feeling like I’ve turned a new page.

I spent just under five years working at the Kansas State Collegian, the student newspaper at Kansas State University. I served in a lot of different positions, not always well and certainly never perfectly, but always intently.

Today though, when you turn the pages to the middle of the Manhattan Mercury, you’ll be able to find what is in many ways a turned page for me as well. Perhaps fittingly, that page is turned to the Sports section.

Last night I wrote my first article post-Collegian work, you can read it here. I covered Rock Creek High School’s first game in the 4A Division II high school baseball tournament here in Kansas.

It was a series of firsts for me. It was my first baseball game covered at any level. I’ve been a fan of baseball since elementary school, my love of the game predates my love for every other major sport except hockey, but I’d never covered a game. I’d never been to a high school game, let alone been in a press box for one. I’d also never covered a sporting event for any publication other than the Collegian, where I was blessed enough to cover K-State Soccer, Women’s Basketball, and to help cover Football in 2016-2017. And while last night’s coverage was far from perfect, it was a start I’m hopeful about.

I’m hopeful for the way I was able to write it and get it submitted fairly rapidly and with little instruction. I’m hopeful about the way I was able to travel and handle the multiple logistics that come with traveling to a game alone to cover something. I’m hopeful about the way I was able to get it right without a better journalist looking over my shoulder, and the way I was able to basically blend in among the other press-box media members and game officials.

None of these things of course is the least bit remarkable. Any journalist of any mediocre ability should be able to master them without err 100% of the time. Yet left alone independently I was able to not screw up. I didn’t lose the proverbial game for my proverbial team. I didn’t win it for them either, but human history is rife with examples of people who started their careers simply by not screwing up big opportunities they were given. In doing so, they left the door open to receive bigger ones later on. History is also rife with examples of people who tried too hard to make the most of their initial opportunities and who ultimately failed because of it.

I’d like to think I’ll prove to be in the former group, but even if I am to fail, I don’t think (having not gotten any feedback yet from my new bosses) that it’ll have been because of yesterday. I don’t intend to throw away my shot, but even if I throw one away, I don’t believe it was yesterday’s.

And that, friends, pumps me the heck up.