A Lament for Georgia

Her impending death trickled in
By way of her friend through a telephone,
Bringing shock to the afternoon.
And yet at once more shocking
Is the sheer pace of transition
From lament to consolation—
From ‘does it have to be?’
To ‘it is and it will be.’

Somehow I accept its arrival as immanent.
The facticity of the thing;
The ceasing of a dear friend;
The ceasing of conversations;
Of chuckling over coffee, of—
Stop pouring the coffee.
Live on only in memory.
Converse only in hindsight.

In the place of your breath—
In the place of your footfalls
Leading into the cafe
The key into the ignition
The food you consumed for breakfast
The chair you would sit on, an antique—
Only your memory.

In the place of your breath, imagined footfalls;
Imagined keys churning inside a now second-hand automobile;
An imagined car pulling into a driveway that is no longer yours;
An imagined hot breakfast that is in fact long-since cold;
An imagined repose on a chair that has been brought somewhere else,
For some other, for a time.

My memory of you, detached from you,
Is brought to finality.
Now my memory has the last word.
Now my memory must talk to itself.
My memory of you it lives alone!
Severed from the memories of others of you,
Somehow my memory of you is accepted as enough:
It will have to do.

03/20/17

The Boston Tavern Club

Put on a jacket and tie
(though sometimes the tie is optional)
And enter the Club through the front door
(the navy door with the polished golden 4);
Hand your keys to the man at the desk
(it’s better if you arrived in a Bimmer)–
The one with a face that doesn’t know you
(he’s wearing a bowtie but no jacket).

Pause for a moment, then ask for your friend
(the one who’s a member, whose name they know);
It’s like they already knew you were coming
(though only in relation to your friend, his coat and tie)
As you’re ushered in to the back room
(the dim one with oil lamps and leather-bound shelves)
And led to your friend, sitting there thoughtfully
(the one whose coat they know and approve).

Now you’re upstairs, pressed against crisp white cloths
(the ones that are starchy and cover oak tables);
Only two sounds bounce off the oil paintings:
(some still-lifes and a few deceased white people)
The creaking of the stairs, as Members ascend,
(old, obviously; dulled with age, leather soles)
And references to Henry and William James
(they frequented this club– did you know?).

It’s warm there in the corner, a Crimson fire
(sweat starts to collect, soaking the oxford cloth);
And before too long the coffee is brought
(a silver pitcher pours itself into the lunar porcelain);
No bill is presented, that’s far too passé;
(just a smile and a nod, and we’re almost out the door),
Past old photographs from a more dignified age
(women weren’t always allowed into the Club, you know)
And onto the street: a normal Boston afternoon
(the light is lurid, but no coat is required).

The World’s Oldest Rockfish

The world’s oldest rougheye rockfish

Was caught off Alaska, in July of 2013.

You were 212, they later found out:

Your eyes were bulgy and cold,

Pupils like black pebbles in a shallow glass of milk.

He held you up, that fisherman did,

(The article said he was from Seattle)

With cheeky lips that ran up to his glasses,

As he stretched that yellow measuring tape

To consummate the whole thing.

*

There was probably something in the pageantry

That attracted our fish friend—

After two hundred and twelve years

Sitting at the bottom of that cold reef,

Older than all his cohabitants,

(The others had all taken the bait)

His children all grown up and doing well for themselves—

He’d spend his days sitting in leather kelp armchairs,

Watching that silent underwater world go by.

*

You lived longer because you were smarter,

My old rougheyed rockfish friend.

There was something exceptional about you—

Something you’d figured out in all those years

That finally made you bite that hemlock baitfish.

That’s more than we can say for that quahog clam

They scooped off the shelf of Iceland—

400 years old, it was, at the time of its death.

But that quahog clam didn’t have any choice,

And besides, being a bottom feeder is a boring business.

*

No; you, my fuchsia friend, decided your years were enough;

You’d seen all you needed to see with those big Homeric eyes;

Or maybe you’d felt the ocean temperatures begin to rise;

Or you’d tasted all the best sashimi—the freshest there could be—

The type they put a premium on and sell

For thousands of dollars to Le Boissonnerie in Paris.

But nobody’s going to eat you—you’re far too old for that

Your centuries of thought have toughened your hide

And made you inedible, much more than mere meat.

So we’ll drink to you, and your life, my fine fish friend,

And ponder a little (with a nice Chablis) your moment of triumph,

And how, being caught, you gained the greatest gift

mankind can bestow: momentary immortality.

wut’s Phaedrus’ #?

When Socrates talks about Memory

And how writing weighs it down,

I’m a little bit hesitant, like Phaedrus,

To concede this point to him—

Writing’s what I’ve always known;

Writing’s what I’ve been tested on;

Writing’s the measure of intellect;

What determines whom we praise.

Or is it, I suddenly concede—

What we think we know?

What we think we are tested on?

What makes us think we’re smart?

What determines who we praise?

Old Socrates never wrote anything down—

For that we can thank young Plato.

Plato with his thousand forms;

Plato with his chimaera diction;

Plato the Death Eater at Athens;

Who begot beauty and 999 false truths.

I really do love Plato, you know.

But so far I haven’t written it down

In quite so many words,

And you might have been confused.

It’s just that

I just can’t figure out what to write,

And what to merely think.

If I write something down it’s final—

A problem Socrates never had.

Oh, Socrates, wisest man in Greece,

Give me guidance in this moment—

Send that daemon as my savior!

I just received a txt

From my little sister Lucy;

It reads: wut’s Mimi’s #?

A few quick commands on the keypad,

And I’ve found Mimi’s Contact Card—

Just pushed ‘share,’ and we’re all set.

thx she says, with digital gratitude.

I used to know everyone’s number,

A big Rolodex sitting in my head—

Now my memory’s been outsourced

To ‘share’ buttons and Wikipedia instead.

But I’ll try not to forget this one message:

Socrates had Phaedrus’ digits memorized.