I’m talking to Jack Gottlieb’s son—my childhood
friend from Pleasantville. He was a skinny,
dark-haired guy, with a neck thin
as the stalk of a dahlia. We lived in railroad
apartments over our parents’ stores—Jack’s Army & Navy,
Hy-Grade Wines & Liquors. Now he’s balding
and quadriplegic from the kiss
of an eight-axle truck. “My father’s got a girlfriend,"
he tells me. “He’s having more sex
than you and me and both our neighborhoods
combined.” I picture Jack Gottlieb, eighty-six,
stroking the loosened skin of his beloved, puckered
as fruit left too long on the limb. Skin softened
the way I once read a pregnant woman—
stranded alone in a hut in Alaska—softened
a hide for her baby’s birth, chewing it
hours and hours each day. Life has been gnawing
Jack Gottlieb like that. First his son, stricken,
stripped down to sheer being. His daughter dead
of brain cancer, and his wife following like earth
into that grave.
And all the cells in Jack’s old organs stir.
The heart, which had been ready to kick back
and call it a day, signs on for another stint.
The blood careens through the crusted arteries
like a teenage skateboarder. He kisses
each separate knob of her spine, the shallow basin
of her belly, her balding pudendum—crowning it
like a queen. The sad knave that’s hung
between his legs, extraneous and out-of-date,
ill-fitting as his old vest, is now steam
pressed and ready for the ball.
Jack Gottlieb enters her over and over.
He’s a child sledding down a hill and climbing
up again, face flushed, hot breath
visible in the twilight. He can’t believe
her goodness. Life, that desperate addict,
has mugged and robbed him on the street,
and then she appears, taking his head
in her palms. He handles her reverently,
as though she were the Rosetta stone, revealing
what lies beyond hope. He scoops her into his hands
and she pours through his fingers again and again.
-- Ellen Bass, 'Jack Gottlieb's in Love'
(I adore Bass's poetry, it's honest and intimate, without trying too hard to impress the reader with a saccharine mashup of overly fancy words, a mistake so many lesser poets make)
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