We wait for fireworks that never arrive.
The halfhearted breeze blows humidly
Around us on the beached old tug named Thor.
Before us dock the speedboat I’m Alive,
Skipjack Ida May, the trawler Big Sea.
The line between sea and land that makes the shore
Grows harder to see in the dusk. We
Watch the sore sun slip from bold orb to tiger
Stripe at the horizon with blue cloud rags
Dragged in the storm’s wake. We talk, agree
The fireworks display might come soon, figure
We only need to wait a while more to see.
We lean back, and the cool coarse wood
Feels good, stare up at what’s left of the day,
And then full dark, and, after half an hour,
When we know they will not come, that we could
Go if we wanted, for some reason we stay
There with Miss May, Old Joy, Lady Flower,
Olympia, Lazee, One Love, Osprey.
When we look away from the hollow
Dark above down to the darker harbor
And all the quivered light along the quay,
We see the black itself as a berth for the glow
Of masthead and stern lights on sloop and cutter,
Ketch and schooner, safe after the storm, dividing
Darkness, as if dreaming what seemed about
To happen, hulls of Isabel, Edna, Ain’t it Grand,
Side by side in the indistinct tide, guiding
Bright quick ripples of surviving light that bear out
To meet us where we still wait on darkened land.
First appearance in The Yale Review, Volume 105, Issue 3, July 2017
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 the 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 Modern Poetry—and James Fenton, then Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He 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 works 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.