For a long time now I have not been able to listen
to Dinu Lipatti’s slender, ascetic fingertips
pressing ever so gently firm on the piano keys
in his last recorded transcription of Bach’s Cantata
“Jesus bleibet meine Freude” given to me
by George Oppen the year he died.
It is too sad to hear
that severe, geometrically measured stroll of the soul
healthily light-stepping into heaven,
and has become sadder with each loved one’s death:
the slow, spare, stately pace wrenching the heart
with its graceful ascendancy over grief,
and staring as if straight into the face of God
either everywhere or nowhere, leaving us
nothing to say, nothing to hear as luminous
and meltingly tender as the air
fills with silence, and the heart with loss.
Jack Marshall is a poet based in San Francisco. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry and the author of several poetry collections and a stunning memoir, From Baghdad to Brooklyn, the story of his youth as a Sephardic Jew struggling with his orthodox religious heritage. George Oppen (1908–84) was an influential and much admired American poet. “A Gift” is from Gorgeous Chaos: New and Selected Poems 1965–2001, published by Coffee House Press and used with permission.