Poetry Friday: “Middle Distance, Morning” by Margaret Gibson

Poetry Friday: “Middle Distance, Morning” by Margaret Gibson May 13, 2016

Fall LeavesI read this poem as a meditation on how one can relate to the outside world without needing to possess it. A poem on how to let go: to connect beyond oneself without clutching. Here, the outside world is that of nature, which the poem’s speaker recounts her relation to. Partly it’s a relation of hushed watching and listening, the discipline of “doing nothing” while yet “poised for a flash from the Absolute.” Partly it’s a graced sense of suspension, of being “blessed by uncertainty.” Partly it’s the recognition that her own imagination might be “a fling / of slim thread,” casting out over “the living world,” so that she’s unable to speak of this world without her  imagination’s aid. She settles on the “middle distance” as the right point for her imagination’s gaze, because at this distance she can comfortably see “the maple rising from its bright ground.” At this distance she needn’t worry whether or not there’s an “edge” further out, beyond her knowing. The speaker’s gratitude for this, and for living “in the midst of all my relations,” is confirmed by the calming iambic pentameter beat which steadies the poem’s opening and closing lines, each imaging autumn leaves in their own letting go: “spindling” or “spinning” in their own relaxed naturalness.

— Peggy Rosenthal


Middle Distance, Morning by Margaret Gibson

One by one leaves spindle in the wind,
the clock runs down, the cricket’s
chirr continues. Each year I try
to catch the moment the chirring ceases
and silence takes on its winter timbre.

Each year I miss. Doing nothing,
poised for a flash from the Absolute,
awaiting rest from unrest,
I’m blessed by uncertainty,
steadied more by loss than by the snare
of an embellished self-possession.
And no, I’m not lonely, No one, not
in the midst of all my relations,
as an old woman called the living world
around her, from quark to cairn,
from stone to a flash of wings
in the updraft. The grass is wet, and mist
rises wherever the sunlight falls.
The maple rising from its bright ground
in middle distance
is a shapely fluidity that anchors
a shining web to woodbine and one
branch of a yearling crabapple.
Perhaps imagination’s only a fling
of slim thread, so that Mind can walk
its own tightrope, also the heart—
in Chinese the word for mind
and the word for heart is the same.
Just now, the light shifts, and the web’s
no longer visible from where I sit.
Across the pond the woods are
a darkness, a depth, a distance
beyond the edge of knowing, I write.
But there is no edge
unless I make one. In middle distance,
a red leaf finds a way
to spin in its own orbit. Now, a gold.

 

Margaret Gibson is the author of eleven books of poetry and one prose memoir, most recently Broken Cup and Second Nature (both from Louisiana State). Her awards include the Lamont Selection for Poetry, the Melville Kane Award, the Connecticut Book Award in Poetry, and two Pushcarts. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award and is professor emerita of the University of Connecticut.

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