“In the Chips” (Reginald Gibbons, 1978)

One more poem by Reginald Gibbons, the fourth poet I discovered through my Quarterly Review of Literature explorations. It is hard to limit myself to two, I like his work so much, but a proper explorer must not linger too long over any one landscape — or so I tell myself. I will, however, return to him later on, as I read his more recent work.

In The Chips

A self steps out of the self, pauses
to let his eyes adjust to the light,
reties a shoelace, and goes about
the business that you thought was yours.
You stand back and watch, you will
find something else to do.

It has happened before.
One of them did not, at the last minute,
leave home, and has worked
in a Texas bookstore all this time.
Another did not go to Spain and now
sells ointments over a counter.
A third, since the job offshore
on an oil rig, has been very ill.
A fourth, still at the Savings & Loan,
has gotten his promotion. . .
And others abound, your life continues to
branch, they have married
and bought houses, brought babies
home from hospitals, attended the funerals
of the nonexistent and the not-yet-dead.

Anyone might wonder what he
could be doing had he not
already done what he has.
Even they, with wives, when they
undress in cold rooms, in rainy winter,
and under the blankets press
their hands to breasts and their mouths
to wet night, close their eyes
on a dream of a different life —
where they see you
drum your fingertips on green felt,
feign a yawn, and turn up
a queen next to the ace, rake in
an armful of white red & blue.

I loved this poem first for the idea; I am so aware of all my own different lives, the ones carried inside myself and the ones abandoned and forgotten. But a fine idea is not in itself enough; it is the power of the poetry, the idea carried through to the end, that sense again of moving through a place and yet enough strength and structure I can turn it around and see it whole. Do my other lives dream of this one? And is it inescapable, this wondering about the others?


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