Saturday, January 23, 2010




for Charles and Caitlin


I could see the mountains age in your looks.

And I could see the hard cold stars

shining above their peaks

as bright as they ever were

tilting their wings like thoughts

with the eyesight of hawks

as they descended on their prey,

the unwary rabbits and lesser birds

that always turned into clouds

just before you seized them by the throat

and threw them back like wall-eye

each into their own notion of a lifeboat.

And I could see how you touched life lightly

like a course correction.

You liked being able to move the planet

but only slightly.

And all those nights on the farm

up late proofreading poems with deadlines

as we talked and laughed at the absurdity

of putting a return address on the meaning of life

and sending it back like a dove that hadn’t discovered land;

I can hear you now arguing with me

as if you were trying to teach the Black Prince Zen.

What I have learned from you Charles

has stuck like stars and burrs.

And if there were scars

on the white horse of the moon

I always forgave you for the music in your spurs.

And that time in the restaurant on Bank Street

and it rained in Wales

and I saw for the first time

as your eyes flooded with tears

how unrescuably sad life is

when the geese are flying at night over our heads

like the passage of all those better years

we can’t call back to our beds.

You recalled a platform at a train station,

all that gaiety and grief

of arrival and departure

now nothing but grass

overgrowing the rusty rails

that stretch out forever into the interminable solitude.

I saw the light that played on your glacial eyes

thaw the ice into flowing jewels

and there was life all around you

and you were beautiful.

You were a beautiful, intelligent, vulnerable, passionate, ageless man.

And if you’re looking down upon me now, old friend,

laughing with Dylan

because you beat all the Calvinists into heaven,

you know how hard I’ve tried

to fit all these elegaic modes

like spectres at a seance of tormented good-byes

to the fires of an Horation pyre

stoic enough to hold back its grief

like a tree in winter

until the last laurel leaf had expired on the wind

like Daphne in the arms of Apollo.

And you know as well as I do

why nothing seems appropriate,

nothing seems to fit.

But four years from the day of your death

I think I finally get it.

You can’t say good-bye to the spirit of a man,

you can’t write exclusive farewells

in the dying falls of dynastic dactyls,

or finger the harps of your sorrows

like echoes in the voices of so many mountain Apollos

who sing as if their shrines had caved in

to a man who only knew how to begin.

You can’t say good-bye to the spirit of a man

whose life was all hellos

on a platform at a station in Wales in the rain

as the train pulls in.