Forty times a day the journey of a lifetime
Was the forty feet to the john
Then falling into your chaise lounge,
Spent sprinter, deep sea diver.
Your oxygen line trailed after the weekends
I drove down to sit a day or two:
In the helmet of each breath,
In your eighty-year-old bubble,
We swung through our New York years
An axe for kindling and shoveled snow.
I still find you there in black and white
A silence my children find strange,
The absent tick of it converted to VHS:
Young and limber, smoking your pipe again
In some bare-wood Canadian cabin.
Minus a sound track, you still read
To my brothers, my sister, and me,
The spine of it clear on the screen:
Moby Dick! Not one of us yet seven!
There was a dog that drawn summer,
So white they called him Caspar, paws raw
From the hot sand. And a clown I remember
Riding the bronco of a motorboat’s bow.
When he fell, when he surfaced on the beach,
We could see the shock of blood and genitals
Through the shred of his false smile
And pink pantaloons. We picked
Blackberries in the hills
And ate them as quickly as they filled
Our gray buckets. Okay, okay, I accept now
Everything you ever brought to me,
Failed and broken, pregnant with new meaning,
Beauty and bearing, literature and liturgy,
Not as a man but as a man might be,
Fallen, falling into possibility.
In our gray upstate New York three-story
You’d read away whole Sunday afternoons
Stopping only for cocktails at five
Or to feed a rip-roaring fire.
“You’re headed to a better place,”
Your neighbor, unschooled in you,
Made the faux pas to offer:
“There’s a blessing in this somewhere…”
“Don’t ever make the mistake
Of preaching to a preacher,” you shot back,
One month left, your skepticism riding
In the same seat as your belief.
Almost without complaint those last few weeks,
You accepted every pill, and still poured through
A book that haunts the sign
For Mount Gilead, Ohio. When you were done,
You started over again, then could not lift
Even the weight of that last paperback.
I called on Robinson, I called on Ames,
My brother, my father, my clergyman,
And read to you once while you slept
That being blessed meant being bloodied,
“…that is true etymologically in English
But not in Greek or Hebrew.”
A deep, familial voice filled the room:
“Of the liver,” you said, “of the good color
In your cheeks. That’s what they once thought
Before the Renaissance.”
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.