The raccoon is sinister, quick and silent,
With strange human hands and black mineral
Eyes that shine and seem to know me somehow.
She noses smoothly past feral cats
To get at the bowl of food we’ve left out.
Our own cats watch patiently through the screen.
Birds drop in swerving squadrons from branches.
In the house, at night, I wait for a ghost
To present itself in the creaking halls.
Trains groan low and clatter across the meadow.
Refinery fires pulse on the river.
But no ghost, not yet. When I rise at night
For the bathroom, past the empty spare room,
I feel a boy’s fingers, faint as snow, on my wrist.
Original appearance in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.
Ernest Hilbert’s debut poetry collection Sixty Sonnets (2009) was described by X.J. Kennedy as “maybe the most arresting sequence we have had since John Berryman checked out of America.” His second collection, All of You on the Good Earth (2013), has been hailed as a “wonder of a book,” “original and essential,” an example of “sheer mastery of poetic form,” containing “some of the most elegant poems in American literature since the loss of Anthony Hecht.” His third collection, Caligulan (2015), has been called “brutal yet beautiful,” defined by “pleasure, clarity, and discipline,” “tough-minded and precise,” filled with a “stern, witty, and often poignant music,” “a page-turner in a way most poetry books can never be.” His fourth collection, Last One Out, will be published by Measure Press in 2018.
Hilbert’s poems have appeared in Yale Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Parnassus, Sewanee Review, Hudson Review, Boston Review, Verse, New Criterion, The New Republic, American Scholar, Hopkins Review, Oxonian Review, and the London Review, as well as several anthologies, including the Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (2009), The Incredible Sestina Anthology (2013), nd two standard Penguin classroom anthologies, Poetry and Literature (both 2011 with later editions since). He graduated with a doctorate in English Language and Literature from Oxford University, where he edited the Oxford Quarterly. While there, he studied with Jon Stallworthy—biographer of Wilfred Owen and Louis MacNeice and editor of the Norton Anthology of Poetry—and James Fenton, then Professor of Poetry at Oxford. Hilbert later served as poetry editor of Random House’s magazine Bold Type in New York City and head editor of Contemporary Poetry Review, published by the American Poetry Fund in Washington DC.
Hilbert supplies opera libretti and song lyrics for contemporary composers Stella Sung, Daniel Felsenfeld, and Christopher LaRosa. His most recent opera with Sung, The Book Collector, premiered at the Schuster Center in Dayton, Ohio in May 2016, with full orchestra, combined 3D and traditional sets, and ballet, made possible by New Music USA, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, the ASCAP Foundation, and the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts. Hilbert is as a senior literature specialist at Bauman Rare Books in Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife, Keeper of the Mediterranean Section at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and their son, Ian, who was born in December 2015.