Giving the ‘Gift’ of Poetry: “Who knows what may come of that?”

9780060924201_p0_v1_s260x420When I was in Seattle last January, I purchased a used copy of The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: A Poetry Anthology (1992) edited by Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade. Inside is an inscription written in simple print with a signature that caught my eye — the “Y” of Jerry’s name wraps around the whole, like a cat’s flicking tail.

Christmas 2000


I’m giving you this with full recognition that one man’s meat is another man’s poison and especially, that it is an ill wind that blows nobody good. But — on the off chance that you find yourself speaking aloud a verse or two that moves you — who knows what may come of that?


Within the book’s yellowed pages I found the previous owner’s Goodwill receipt dated 4/5/2017 (price: $2.99); I placed beside it my own (price: $7.95). Despite its travels, in its 500+ pages there is no underlining or marginalia — the only sign of past ownership is a single, dog-eared page marking a poem by the Indian mystic Kabir.

Kabir’s poem is titled, “Knowing Nothing Shuts the Iron Gates,” and is in the section titled, “Approach to Wildness,” which Bly defines as being marked by “love of nature, especially its silence, a voice box free to say spontaneous things, an exuberance, a love of ‘the edge,’ the willingness to admit the ‘three strange angels’ that [D.H.] Lawrence speaks of.” Kabir’s poem goes:

Knowing nothing shuts the iron gates; the new love opens them.

The sound of the gates opening wakes the beautiful woman asleep.

Kabir says: Fantastic! Don’t let a chance like this go by!

Setting the book down, I wrote a short poem inspired by Jerry’s inscription. If ever I give you a book of poetry, know that this resides between the lines:

Giving the “Gift” of Poetry

It’s not what you wanted;
it’s not what you asked for.

I may as well give you bus tokens
from a foreign land.

But if you find yourself
speaking aloud a verse or two
that moves you, who knows

what may come of that?

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