blackbirdonline journalSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Review | The Glass Globe by Margaret Gibson
Louisiana State University Press, 2021

spacer The Glass Globe (Louisiana State University Press, 2021)

Though Margaret Gibson’s The Glass Globe begins as an intimate meditation on the decline and loss of the author’s husband due to Alzheimer’s-related dementia, it develops into something much larger, perhaps an elegy for the earth itself.

Whatever angst we carry concerning such a subject is quickly cooled by the grace and clarity of the opening poems, which invite us to join a long conversation concerning mortality—our own and that of those whom we love.

This would be a daunting journey if not for the deftness with which Gibson engages this material. Despite the weight of emotion that defines many of these poems, her touch is light, wise.

We are taken by the hand and offered poignant witness about the fragility, the brevity of our lives. Take these lines from “Irrevocable”:

I speak from the liminal space where your beloved’s last barely audible breath
slipped into your body

then out the window into the winter chill, whose horizon line it rolled up as if
it was twine . . .

In his book of essays, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Francis Weller writes, “There is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive.” The Glass Globe is the perfect expression of this sentiment. The pain of loss and of impending loss is palpable throughout but here, these things act as fuel for longing and for life. Often, when faced with irreparable emotions, we fall silent as though words are simply too flimsy to bear such freight, but these poems are proof that language is, indeed, a worthy vehicle for moving into and through the complexity of human experience. In “What He Knew” there is a moment of insight into the mystery of semantics:

And because I don’t know
I enter

the house
each word is, looking for

the word inside the word

its sequestered

There is also sharp-edged frankness in this collection, a raw elegance shaped by the writerly brilliance with which Gibson employs utterance in service of the heart. In America—land of big toys and binge-watching—it is hard not to notice the loud machinery committed to burying the idea of death, the idea that none of us will be spared. What is often missing is the willingness, the daring required to enter the realm of grief unapologetically. When she writes, “Except for me, everyone who came to our wedding is / dead” it’s virtually impossible not to begin to tally our own lost friends and loves. Isn’t such honesty a crucial component of being fully alive, completely awake? One of the gifts of this book is what Francis Weller would call an initiation “into a more inclusive conversation between our singular lives and the soul of the world.” In the penultimate poem, “Always an Immigrant,” she writes:

They know how the immigrant
gives from its own boundless
and light, crossing into
and bliss, into pain
and rejection
this heart a new life always arriving
your body, my body
one body in the makeshift shelters
we call our lives

Because Alzheimer’s related dementia steadily subtracts those aspects of a person’s mind that define who they are, the progression of this disease is somewhat analogous to human activity in relation to the health and wholeness of our planet. The disappearance of numerous species, the poisoning of the oceans, the profound diminution of the forests, and the erasure of many cultures are the direct result of industrialization and human overpopulation. These poems oblige us to see, in no uncertain terms, that the world is disappearing alongside us, has in fact, already lost much of its quintessential Earthliness. Though we often pretend that the earth’s vulnerability and impermanence “goes without saying,” this collection insists that it does, in fact, need to be said—if for no other reason than to help us remember where we are and what wonders remain. Take this sequence from “Sky Pond Place”:

Joined in the single sweep of a glance, neither pond nor sky
takes precedence—
you can see how

clouds enter each one equally

Oh, what are we waiting for? There are water skimmers and lilies
on the skin of a cloud—

time to go swimming in the sky . . .

The heartful attention that pervades Margaret Gibson’s The Glass Globe offers irrefutable evidence that we are most alive when we remain present and attentive, no matter what. In many ways, this book is a map of love and longing. When she writes “I’d eat / the bark of a pine if I thought I’d find // beneath its tight inscrutable cover / a trace of your voice,” she is speaking for all of us who have lost someone or some connection that cannot be recovered. Perhaps we read poetry, not to be spoken to but spoken for as we carry, with desperation and measures of grace, the unwieldy cargo of our lives.  end

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