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 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

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.”

Shrine of lunar hulls
Swayed to mist in river’s hold
Or solar reservoir dried
To yolk and pollen,

All that was shaped will be sunk clear of chance,
And all printed given out to be sung.

Felon, old friend, death will not travel long.

Fuzz-head & coconut-gun stumbled on the hard wet sand
Humid boardwalk haze and grey choke-mist reruns in Little Odessa

Brighton Beach

He arrived in the city and before long it began to snow.
The smell of spices and meats fried in oils
Filled the cold. Tire-grey drifts glutted the streets.
Snow flurried like thick wet motes of ash.

Smiling sadly with beer beneath canopy
Of canaried gold and song, so much cold wind
Gone out into dark cove of oar and sail,

It is September, and I lunch in rain.
I do not like your city. I do not

Welcome the filling sky as I once could.

Bosch’s demons, roosting against
The luminous sky of the Low Countries,
Emerge shaped of stone or dirty light,
Perched atop the haywain blowing

Fixed light overhead
Delivered to chiseled distance

Of steeple and rigged mast,

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

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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