Ernest Hilbert

Ernest Hilbert Poems

I listened to Bach for eight hours
After she left into the snow,

Disappointed with my library

On a step behind the Holiday Inn,
Two Russians roamed up, bummed a cigarette,
While a third snuck up, struck me from behind.
I sprawled to asphalt. Then the boot came in.

I'm late for work. I can't figure what's wrong
At first, but then I feel the peaceable kingdom
That the daily rush-hour leaves in its wake.
I hail Miss Bonnie, who's puffed as an autumn

An aristocratic Dane, draped in tweed, blonde hair whisked to side, clunked a bottle of whiskey down on the desk, waved his hand easily into the smoky air as if shooing a desert fly: “This is so vulgar. It really is, ” meaning the Brahms Festival Overture, and the light for one small moment over the library glinted into the window.

“The ocean will never cease to give us pleasure, Doctor.” She posed on wet rocks against a distant storm; he stood beside a yawl overturned beneath the seawall and complained: “My friends, they either disappoint me or compel me to jealousy.”

I’m battered all to hell. You should see me.
I’m in the corner of a bright diner,
The very one from Suzanne Vega’s song.
Every time I limp to the john to pee

My friends quietly dropped out of high school.
It seemed each week we had parties for some guy
Going into jail or getting released.
It’s not that anyone thought this was cool,

What natural or man-made wonders will we
Prospect in those crevasses and gullies,
Boulders blotted blue as soggy lilacs
With lichen and cloud shadow? It’s all free:

For some, ardent reading forms its own end,
A drawn-out, lonely, unpaid profession.
Even as pastime, it’s viewed as creepy.
The mind greets ghosts, and no good to pretend

When it comes to love and peace, that’s it,
We will never really learn to grow up.
Tantrums scorch; jealous, hurtful flares bear light
In the darkness we fashion from splendid

It happens to us all, at least one time,
The black, caught knot of storm threatens, distant,
But buckling closer, waves capped and blown white.
Heavy tides, laden with fresh wreckage, climb,

My love, we know how species run extinct,
And greenest plants grow to fossils in time,
Mountains go molten and run to the sea,
That our careful ideas, all we think,

A young Napoleon, his hair coursed back, ferine,
Was already, as a lieutenant in the King’s artillery,
Expert in ramrod and shot. Being of lower nobility,
And Corsican into the deal, he considered


To pass the time we played backgammon with
Husks of carved whalebone on a smooth steel board.
I always seemed to win, though I knew you
Cheated. We had spent the past weeks in a warehouse

for Irving Feldman

Already in the whistling glass of January air
Beneath the thunk and rattle of the great steel Elevated, they sit

Midway through a now familiar passage

When tracing new borders for the Middle East,
Churchill., drunk, allowed his pencil to slip
And left a thirty-mile polyp on the page

New Orleans

Decisions are uncomfortable
In this atmosphere. Valves drain, swell to ballad—

Necropolis, Vulci

I arrive, one more uninvited guest.
A June storm coasts down the horizon

My father chased pirates on the Yangtze
And sowed moats on the great rust hills of Mars.
I stretched on the gently tilted deck. Cool sun
Flared through clouds dyed and bruised like the sea.


The harpooned great white shark heaves onto sand,
Nudged by waves, red cavern of dripping teeth.
A crowd comes. Loud gulls wreathe the booming mist.
Blue flies cloud the fishy sunset, and land.

Ernest Hilbert Biography

Ernest Hilbert is the author of three collection of poetry, Sixty Sonnets, All of You on the Good Earth, and Caligulan, which was selected as winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize. He lives in Philadelphia where he works as a rare book dealer, opera librettist, and book reviewer for The Washington Post. His poem “Mars Ultor” appears in Best American Poetry 2018.)

The Best Poem Of Ernest Hilbert

Ecstasy Of St. Teresa

I listened to Bach for eight hours
After she left into the snow,

Disappointed with my library
And choice of whiskey—

She divested my apartment
Of her hair, denuded it of form,

Her voice and beauty—
Sauntered into late skies

Past breweries that light
The city’s edge with steam,

Leaving me with bottles and my
Old skylight

And the landlord banging on my wall
“You keep quiet now. You always

“Make too much noise in there when
Girls come and leave.”

Ernest Hilbert Comments

Lamont Palmer 21 December 2009

Good critics often write some of the best poetry. Hilbert is no exception. He is a poet of great depth and verbal dexterity without being obscure beyond comprehension. Always an interesting read. -LP

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