Visiting Fort Juniper
for Robert Francis
Mid-winter when I first drove out to meet him,
Snow on the ground, the fort a cabin in the woods
North of Amherst, dark inside as a smokehouse,
The day’s fire tended several times by then.
He’d have been 72, thin as some desert acetic—
Quick, hermitic, attentive as the birds he fed
And wrote about, a new book, The Ghosts of Eagles,
Coming out in the spring. (“Here is the holy,
Here the not-so-holy host.”) He was one of many
Robert-poets, as he’d noted, staking his claim
In the shadow of his famous New England mentor.
As for prosody: “I once wrote a villanelle
To prove I was a man.” The deadpan pitch-perfect.
We drank cups of tea laced with Old Mr. Boston
Apricot Brandy, a recent discovery, he told me,
As we settled in for the remainder of the afternoon.
It was in-between semesters in my second
Art-school winter and I’d been winging it poorly
On my own, not being of a piece the way he was.
I lacked the years, for one thing. For another,
My solitude was mostly a matter of fits and starts.
He might have taught me something about that
(“His loneness my loneness”), if I’d known enough
To ask or take in his example—that hermitage
Of long attendance, the ceremony he’d made
From its daily routines, like the paths he’d worn
Through the trees. Now memory’s all attention.
The bare wooden walls were patined with smoke,
Glowed apricot around the fireplace, claret
Where the level sun streamed into the room,
The day in-between brilliancies, as he might say.
Then the snowy fields like silverpoint on gesso.
Robert Gibb’s books include After, which won the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017. Other awards include a National Poetry Series title (The Origins of Evening), two NEA Fellowships, inclusion in Best American Poetry 2012, and a Pushcart Prize.