I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came
there was no way to be sure which were
hers and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
this long black hair tangled in the dirt.
Jack Gilbert’s wife Michiko Nogami died in her thirties from cancer, and in this moving poem, lacking many of the trappings of elegy, he overwhelms by understating. It occurs to me the proper response for a reader is awe, rather than analysis, and I feel fortunate that I can still hear Jack’s voice in it. A critic once referred to Gilbert as a “lyric ghost.” Seems right.
This poem originally appeared, as far as I can tell, in Columbia, then in a Tamarack Editions chapbook (1984) entitled Kochan, which may carry a range of meanings between “cutie” and “beloved.” If I’m off there, someone sing out. By the way, Michiko means “passing child” or “child of wisdom.”
Gilbert received the Yale Younger Poets Prize for Views of Jeopardy, and his Collected Poems was a runner-up for the Pulitzer. I also highly recommend Monolithos. Fortunately, his books are available on Amazon and other outlets.