|Apr/May 2012 Poetry|
Elegy within Earshot of Howling
Returning from a family birding trip to Manistee,
I finally found your grave after all these years.
About to give up in my third pass through the small country cemetery,
I caught my breath as I literally stumbled upon your name.
Like you, the marker was slightly off kilter,
and, as if in deference to the memory of your style,
it wore the five o'clock shadow of a decade of wind and rain.
My four-year-old ran laughing around your stone
while his older brother doled out harsh glares and whispers
of reprimand, until I patted him on the shoulder to say it was all right.
As we stood there in the midst of that sweet laughter
and the beginnings of a soft spring rain,
I remembered the last time we spoke on the phone,
very near the end, when you invoked Rilke:
"Take the emptiness you hold in your arms
and scatter it into the open spaces we breathe:
maybe the birds will feel how the air is thinner
and fly with more affection..."
and announced your love for all
the youthful, scattered days of our friendship
when we ran from place to place, from one illicit dawn to the next,
down to the continent's edge
to shout wild oaths and promises.
Your voice was so thin and rasping,
it foretold, without proclaiming, the inevitable,
so different than what we had promised and imagined.
"Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,"
I somehow managed to respond.
When we hung up that last time, my wife held me down
as I howled and raged on my hands and knees
all across the cold, hard tiles of that floor on another continent,
as worms crawled beneath the foundation of our house
and stars blazed outside in the night sky.
For a while I tried to follow your advice,
and even pledged to serenade
each of the mornings after you died
with some form or another
of my ragged and lusty song.
But my voice has grown hoarse, and I am forgetful—
still I'm aware of some of what remains,
aware now that I've set up camp, without even knowing it,
in the proximity of birds, and within earshot of that howling,
with ready and certain access to the reverberations of its call.
in my forties
so much to discover—
like Weldon Kees, who should have stuck
The Collected Works
The pages pile up year after year,
line flowing from line
and word following word,
unpublished, unread, but nonetheless filed
away with meticulous care.
The children will find them
one bright day,
when you no longer own your fear.
If dropped, you imagine
they'll softly alight,
like leaves from a vine.
But you know they might fall
like a death in mid-flight,
to land with a thud in a ragged clump
like some hallucinatory, migrating bird.
However they are collected—
gathered and bundled and finally piled,
or arranged with painstaking care—
they'll await the spark of creative fire
and their final ascension
into the bright, clean air.