Late Rapturous

I began reading Late Rapturous 10 days before Christmas. Frank Gaspar’s poems are complex, often somber elegies with just enough wry humor to let the reader draw a startled breath. Reading Gaspar is like wandering in a forest of words, where  images are arranged like bread crumbs. I quickly learned to rely on his sinuous lines to lead me to the crux of the poem.

In the title poem about his visit to an exhibit of de Koonings in a Manhattan gallery, Gaspar constructs a sentence that lasts for 19 lines, a gorgeous, rich, complicated, breathless meditation on the experience of making his way to the paintings. Nineteen lines! I won’t quote them all, but this: “…I know that every time you run toward something you love, you run away from it too, you get blinded by the colors or you miss something important and the moment collapses and takes whole worlds with it, forever, into some kind of blackness.”

Gaspar is the Gregorian chanter of poetry – the lines last forever – and he often uses Judeo-Christian allusions. The Bible and its metaphysical cousin,The Gnostic Gospels, figure prominently. And yet he is not a didactic poet. The music comes first in Gaspar’s work and what heavenly music it is!

I dove into reading the 46 poems in Late Rapturous not realizing it would be like ingesting a multilayered, deliciously decadent, and slightly acidic cake. There’s a sting in these poems, a hurt, but also a deep wonder at the holiness of the moment deeply observed, a love of life that surfaces over and over juxtaposed with despair. It’s the melancholy that earns Gaspar the right to praise even as he stares open-eyed at human foibles and failings.

In the poem “Do No Harm” Gaspar meditates on his own complicity. “There is not a single thing I am innocent of, and this comes as a great disappointment to me.” As he reflects on the way we break one another’s hearts, generation after generation, the language is austere but also lush as in these closing lines of the poem: “Do no harm, I told myself. Look for the small miracles. Already the moon was crisp in the east. Already the moon was faultless behind the naked limbs, following the black notes of the huddled birds, shining, and it wasn’t even dark yet.”

I read these lines on a crowded BART train on my way to San Francisco to meet my daughter and granddaughter for a performance of The Nutcracker. Could there be a more festive thing to do on the Saturday before Christmas? I stumbled in unison with hordes of people as we flowed like a human river up Powell Street toward Union Square and its giant Christmas tree. Gaspar’s lines echoed and made it possible for me to breathe in the midst of that crush, they soothed my impatience, and kept hurry at bay. They fortified me enough to flow with the tourists and children, the suitcases and shopping bags. I was fully present and accounted for.

For that gift, I am eternally grateful. William Carlos Williams wrote:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die every day
for lack
of what is found
there

I feel this powerfully when I read Frank Gaspar. There is essential nourishment in his poems. I read or reread one poem of his each morning. And each morning I shake my head in wonder and give thanks for what I find there.

 Note: For the sake of spacing in WordPress, I did not follow Mr. Gaspar’s line breaks as published. My apologies.