I COULD SEE THE MOUNTAINS AGE IN YOUR LOOKS
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.