A Private Death:
for Joe Harrison
When I met him on his way to class, or from,
Hurrying to tend his wife, struck down, as people are,
By the hand inside that clenches and explodes,
That smile and voice, unchanged, fooled me.
But I turned one day, something turned me,
And saw the back, just the back, climbing up hill, come far.
Something stopped then. For look! - there he was alive,
That same face the same: we draw one more breath, both turn away,
And walk toward a separate dying, we both know it.
That image persecutes my thought.
I've turned again, run after, and caught
The shoulders, now straight: denying the nothing I had to say.
But something was true, or clutched a rag of the truth,
Shaming words from their sweet habit - no false, or pretty, or weak.
Love speaks badly: too soon, too late, or what's worse, too well.
That image of death deserves to intrude
On the constant image, unbetrayed,
My friend moving alive and toward me, not needing to speak.
Love speaks badly. One cannot measure a life, or one's own
Grief, or any love. In the heart's own dark we are given and give.
Our needs are common as the hope we breathe
Into the titles that descend
Of husband, father, teacher, friend.
Love has one common speech that means to make us live.
Sharp day, dark star; among the splintered grass
The broken flesh of smoke-tarred fingers bled.
His eyes were black as bees, his teeth finflashed,
His lean brown breast bore nipples bruised like red
Stream stones. A rose above his sideburned ear,
His musky midnight coif stiff with pomade,
He came, a hesitating faun, down stairs;
Desired to fight, white fist to breast; black mane
Struck dust, eyes shut: "Did you beat that white-guy?"
Then vomited on summer's grass. Searching the road
For fatal ruts and final ditches, cars
Hold birds too beautiful to cage from flight.
Don't die too soon, brown boy, and don't wreck, no,
And don't sing toothless to unstrung guitars