He did not disappear among the dead
Of winter, as the sinking mercury did,
But had a headstone for his grizzled head.
Beneath the chiseled marble, he lay hid
To hear what those of us above him said.
Whatever instruments we had agreed:
That day, the wind—and he—had both gone cold.
Brooks froze so hard they never would be freed,
Their currents failing them. Though he’d been old,
He’d had by heart still all his childhood’s creed.
He’d had his dog-tag number still by heart
The day he died, but did not know that day.
He did not know the day he would depart
His life. He did not know where we would lay
Him in a mouth of earth, with artless art.
At the grave, the seven guns were one
Three times. The stinging crack of their report
Gave way before the wind, and they were gone.
The cars came up and we were brought up short.
A folded flag for her, then all was done.
AT THE FACILITY:
Camp-skeletal yet Shar-Pei-faced, they prop
Their heads on nothing there, skull after skull
Hang-dog, chins on the breast bones where they plop
With mouths agape and eyes glazed over, dull
In what their war called The Thousand-Mile Stare.
What can be seen a thousand miles away,
While clock-hands wipe away the time that’s there,
Hanging like pendulous weights on the dead day?
What can be read except what can be seen
Right here before the lector’s very eyes:
That endless days leave little time to glean,
Do what you can. How long before time vies
With endless space to loom beyond mere worry?
“Hurry,” it says. “Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.”
Well, Rome: you claim to know what causes my “malingering.”
Why don’t you drop these charges you keep bringing?
It isn’t apathy. Her bed’s as far away
From mine as Hypanis from Po. Delay?
No. Cynthia neither rolls me in her arms, I fear,
Nor whispers honeyed nothings in my ear.
There was a time I pleased her; no one then could touch
Our love, and no one then loved half so much.
Rome envied us. And then some god’s Promethean moly
Smashed our bond, and we were shattered wholly.
Long roads can change girls, and I’m not the man I was.
Love can’t hold out for long; it seldom does.
For the first time, I’m forced to know long nights alone;
One voice oppresses me, and it’s my own.
One’s not unhappy crying if one’s girl is there
At least; Love likes a little wet despair.
Or if the spurned man trades the lover that he knew
For some fresh girl, new slavery’s lovely too.
I can’t stop loving Cynthia; my love stands fast.
Cynthia: she who was first shall be the last.
Len Krisak’s most recent books are complete translations of
Catullus, Ovid’s Ars Amatoria and Amores, Rilke’s
New Poems, 1907-1908, and his own work, Afterimage.
With poems in the Antioch, Hudson, Sewanee, PN, and
Southwest Reviews, he is the recipient of the Robert Penn
Warren, Richard Wilbur, and Robert Frost Prizes, and
a four-time champion on Jeopardy!