:: Article

Five Poems

By Alan Gilbert.

a distant spo t


blue arched in yellow
the gaslight sputtered in the night
a girl pressed her cheek to Dostoyevsky’s
Poor People

and wept

and at so many anarchist meetings
in Stelton
you’d nod off among
rows of would-be

“will she sleep on the back bench?”


one night some Italian cobblers
at work under the eaves
blew the roofOF F

a man stood naked among pigeons
and the ruins

and stared out

your father
spirited him to Philadelphia

and you went off to college

      “never leave him alone with the

      your New England


summer afternoons
I hit against Pete Taggard
who had a live fastball
on the old racecourse by our

mornings, on your advice,
read Dostoyevsky, Turgenev and Chekhov

while you ran for School Committee
in our town – “But after all, Jews
can’t live in Greenwich”

by the Connecticut sound

you who taught your children how to read
but told no childhood tales
for all the world was Westport

blown from a distant spot

Prin ts


jute fibers rasp and sting
visitors gasp the humid heat
         a woman tends a clacking loom
           thirty no more
                   her ring finger
                        no more –

I peer through heavy air
does no one have a set of ten –

the Dacca mill guide
     jabbers rapidly
               as if economists
                  will understand

the Dutchman has gone green
     the Scandinavian turns away
          my ashen father
               covers his mouth

and I stag
              ou t
                  into the mere heat
                        of the monsoon

“Marx called this primitive accumulation
        whispered my teacher

“150 years and capitalism
        can barely show
               in daylight”

come rains
        I open my mouth in stubborn

will sheets of heavy rain
     swell the Ganges

wash the shores the walls
       wash out the blood?


money flees
         from East,
               “internal colony,”
                         to West

jute owning Adamjees – their son’s
      my friend at Harvard –
         jowl by jowl
my father hates Punjabi racism

                with the powerful
   his group “Harvard advisors
         to Governor Wallace”

                stand sheeted at Alabama
                door to block a lone



my parents toured
    Comilla cooperatives
               small farmers working to make do –

my mother caught their glow
    redolent of anarchist farms
               she’d known so long ago
                     exuberant as she

    near spoiled in Springfield silos
         he’d made a works program
               so that the poor

                     be fed

Bengali hands
    forged dams cut

               drew prideinpubli



I journeyed with my mother
    to the Sundarbans
               great Ganges swamps
                     swept by the busy clouds

our steamer chugged
    late against the current
               to the Government House
                     near ruin or unfinished
                          who can say

    boatmen say
                 come stalking by the door
                          even to bedrooms
           lie easy on that beach

the board from stern to porch
      shivers unstead y
         under hesitan t

“perhaps” mom says
         ”the sleeping’s
            better on the boat”

come morning
     beaches empty to tall grass
       I and a guide –
         he’s left his gun

            behind –
               walk in sunlight
                  by the muddy water

we stare at

   paw print
where the lithe

   tiger had gone

         to dr in k


that fall at Harvard I told Ashraf
                bespectacled scion

                                 of his family factory

charming as always
            he’d squin ted at the
                  and at his nails

and never spoke to me

                    Kin g of fears


I wrote my parents
   of the anti-nuclear march
      in Washington
         freedom ride
                     to Chestertown
 explosions of silvering
         world and glasss
              so fragile in our hands

(not of clumsy love
      ardent and fragile
             on the trip back)

     advisor to dictator Ayub Khan –
            dictated a letter
“you’re a fresh ma n

               don’t act
                      there’s so much

not yet Montaigne
      nonchalant among cabbages
                   I wonder

                   will the world
                         outlive its gardens


that summer in Pakistan
     sun soaked
          my father’s house
Taj – man of many languages
     and hopes for his son –
          served the meal
five other servants
     moved quietly
          behind the doors
               and in Karachi gardens
                   where the cobras glide

nag a
     hooded king of fears
fanged flower among flowers

     “aren’t you a socialist?”
          my father asked,
               “every on e
                    should be a socialist

                         when young”

Sanders Theater

at Sanders Theater
      troops in Vietnam


                               LBJ ADVISOR

                  cousin to
                            Robert Lowell

and Dick Blau
        behind his knitting
                 aunt and mother

                  “which one’s the young
                  ““the wooly haired

                              Ecole Normale Superieure


on gray Parisian evenings
    Dick Blau and I would browse the bookstalls
        by the Seine
            leaves of poetry
                and smoke would curl
                    in bedrooms
                        the curve of imagined sex
                            as live as taste or smell

                “god pity those
                    but wanton to the knees”

and in the afternoons
    I’d go with Bob Leonhardt
        to Althusser’s seminars
                on the silences in Marx’s Kapital
                    or leaflet with Maoist friends about Vietnam
                        at factory


we’d walk to Bob’s room
    through the workers’ corridor
        small chambers with a cot
                chair table picture

                        of spent galaxy
                           a solitary star

    the militants never spoke
                           with them


                as sight or speech.


Alan Gilbert is John Evans professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and author of Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens, Democratic Individuality, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? and Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence. You can read an interview with him on 3:AM here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, April 13th, 2012.