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poemoftheweek poem of the week



Edward Hirsch 


Gabriel: A Poem (excerpt)

The funeral director opened the coffin 
And there he was alone 
From the waist up

I peered down into his face 
And for a moment I was taken aback 
Because it was not Gabriel

It was just some poor kid
Whose face looked like a room 
That had been vacated

But then I looked more intently 
At his heavy eyelids 
And fine features

He had always been a restive sleeper 
Now he was weirdly still 
My reckless boy

Dressed up for a special occasion 
He liked that navy-blue suit 
And preened over himself in the mirror

Hey college boy the guy called out 
On the street in Northampton 
You look sharp in those new duds

He loved the way he looked 
After he stopped taking the meds 
That fogged his mind

He admired himself 
In store windows and revolving doors 
Where his reflection turned

Now he looked rigid and buttoned up 
Like he was going to a funeral 
On a Friday in early September

A teenage boy finds himself
Lying facedown on top of a bus
Racing through a tunnel out of the city

He is plastered to the slippery roof
And breathing in the terrible fumes
Which go on for miles and miles

A boy clinging to the surface
His mouth full of dust
His arms and legs spread-eagled

A winged angel in the grime
Remembers the ocean wind
This spray in his face the fog lifting

The bus slows in heavy traffic
And the boy peers down to see
Himself in the front seat

Of a passing car a stick figure
Crayoned between his parents
And then the bus picks up speed

And flies into the faceless darkness
And the boy and his parents
Become a vanishing scrawl

Lying face down on top of a bus
Racing through a tunnel out of the city
A teenage boy finds himself

Plastered to the slippery roof
And breathing in the exhaust
The darkness visible at last

And then suddenly a blackbird
Floating like charred paper
The bruised blue sky [...]

-from Gabriel

BIO: Edward Hirsch was born in Chicago on January 20, 1950, and educated both at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a PhD in folklore.

His first collection of poems, For the Sleepwalkers (Alfred A. Knopf), was published in 1981 and went on to receive the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Since then, he has published several books of poems, most recently Gabriel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014); The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); Special Orders (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008); Lay Back the Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003); On Love (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998); Earthly Measures (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994); and The Night Parade (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989).

He is also the author of A Poet’s Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014); The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (Harcourt, 2002); Responsive Reading (University of Michigan Press, 1999); and the national bestseller How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Harcourt, 1999), which the poet Garrett Hongo called “the product of a lifetime of passionate reflection” and “a wonderful book for laureate and layman both.” Hirsch is also the author of Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2007), which collects two years’ worth of his weekly essay-letters running in The Washington Post‘s Book World.

About Hirsch’s poetry, the poet Dana Goodyear wrote for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, “It takes a brave poet to follow Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton into the abyss . . . Hirsch’s poems [are] compassionate, reverential, sometimes relievingly ruthless.”

Hirsch’s honors include an Academy of Arts and Letters Award, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He has been a professor of English at Wayne State University and the University of Houston. Hirsch is currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

In 2008, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in New York City.

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