Dan Gerber's Trying to Catch the Horses
"Something not only of itself / comes out of the tree when I see it, / something not me that I am." ("A Tree on the Prairie in Mid-October") It is unusual to read a poet who is both calming and adventurous at once. Dan Gerber seems a man who has been places—geographically and internally, and who has come out holding a rich conversation with the world: "The wind makes seven different sounds in the sage." ("Storm Warning")
Novelist Jim Harrison, who coedited the literary journal Sumac with Gerber from 1968-72, provides the epigraph for one poem and a perfect summation of Gerber's gifts: "It's very difficult to look at the world and into your heart at the same time." Gerber's poems, imbued with a mystical Zen pantheism—a still and clarified center—instruct and console by their unadorned revelations in which the human, represented by Gerber, cohabit the natural world without dominating it.
Kindness and responsibility guide the poems. Oftentimes moving, always wise, always precise as the prairie dogs, storms, pine trees, and blackbirds he describes, they call up a David Ignatow of the woods, Jiménez, Rilke, and the great Zen poets. Poems of the actual, of the true, they value "the present in which a car with a blown muffler rumbles and a neighbor's dog barks" ("Remembering to Breathe"), understand that "what we don't know / is subscribed by what we do." ("Grouse"), and live where solace confirms "Beyond the meadow is a greater meadow / and beyond the trees, more trees." ("Walking Out Alone") Contrarily, Gerber's poem, "The Favorite Child," holds one of the most harrowing psychological mother portraits in poetry:
And I will eat this child, and he will satisfy
the hunger in me. Maybe.
And I will eat mine slowly, a little
at a time and make him last
my whole life, and even a little longer
so that I can go on eating
even when I have no stomach.