Audio: Read by the author.
We remember how Zach finally hated himself so much
he became a walking—no, a stumbling cartoon:
he left his apartment, say, to look for a brick,
not some handier thing like a lamp or a frying pan,
not any old rock—he left, and found the brick
and used it to smash his grubby bathroom mirror.
Cartoon Bible-thumpers would likely have shouted,
The end is near. Dirt-poverty, that was one thing,
the lack of beauty in life was quite another,
and people turning away wherever he went,
the ones still willing to hear him sore as hell
they remained so. And something else: he couldn’t count
the years that had passed since somebody called him dear
or whatever. Well, I guess that’s a lot of things.
Those Bible folk I imagined would have been right
if they’d meant the end of Zach’s pathetic world.
We remember how we’d drink with him, and more
than half our gang are dead as he is now.
But some of us gathered those thousands of little shards
and managed to fit them together again like puzzles,
and so we all had mirrors that we could inspect
without thinking of bricks or drinking. But we kept thinking—
not all-day-every-day but plenty—of Zach,
of how we were like him and how for sure we weren’t heroes.
We just woke up one day and we were alive
and it wasn’t because we were smarter or God knows better
to look at than Zach. (And I say God, by the way,
because what the hell else do I have for explanation?)
Before it all shattered, Zach had a movie star’s features
and smile, an athlete’s body… I could keep listing.
Not beauty or brains or courage—none of that saved us.
But we did get saved and Zach and some others didn’t.
Sydney Lea is former Vermont poet laureate and founder of New England Review. His most recent books are a thirteenth collection, Here (Four Way), and a graphic mock-epic, The Exquisite Triumph of Wormboy (Able Muse).