by Edgar Bowers

Before he wrote a poem, he learned the measure
That living in the future gives a farm—
Propinquity of mules and cows, the charmed
Insouciance of hens, the fellowship,
At dawn, of seed-time and of harvest-time.
But when high noon gave way to evening, and
The fences lay, bent shadows, on the crops
And pastures to the yellowing trees, he felt
The presences he felt when, over rocks,
Through pools and where it wears the bank, the stream
Ran bright and dark at once, itself its shadow;
And suffered, in all he knew, the antagonists
Related in the Bible, in himself
And every new condition from the beginning,
As in the autumn leaf and summer prime.
Therefore he chose to live the only game
Worthy of repetition, in the likeness
Of someone like himself, a race of which
He was the changing distances and ground,
The runners, and the goal that runs away
Forever into time; or like two players
At odds in white and black, their dignities
Triumphs refused or losses unredeemed.
For the one, that it be ever of the pure
Intention that he witnessed in the high
Stained windows of King's Chapel— ancestral stories,
The old above the new, like pages shining
From an essential book— he taught his mind
To imitate the meditation, sovereign
In verse and prose, of those who shared with him
Intelligence of beauty, good, and truth
As one, unchanging and unchangeable,
Disinterested excitement through a sentence
Their joy and passion. For the other, as
A venturer asleep, he went among
The voiceless and unvisionary many—
Like one who offers blood to know his fate
Or hold his twin again— deep in the midnight
Baths of New Orleans, on its plural beds
And on the secret banks beside its river,
The many who, anonymous as he was,
Uncannily resembled him, appearing
Immortal in a finitude of mirrors.

But when the sudden force of the disease
Tossed him, in a new garment, on the bed
Where he had wakened, mornings, as a child—
Despised by all the neighbors, helpless, blind
And vulnerable to every life, he listened
Intensely to the roosters, mules and cows
As well as to the voices of the desk,
The chair, the books and pictures, pastures and fields,
The tree of every season, the age of seas
And, on its surge, the age of galaxies,
The bells within the spires of Cambridge, bodies
And faces revealed or hidden in the flow,
All that we knew or could imagine joined
Together in the sound the stream flows through
As witness of itself in every change,
Each trusting in its continuities,
All turning in a final radiant shell.
Then, on his darkened eye, he saw himself
A compact disk awhirl, played by the light
He came from and was ready to reenter,
But not before he chose the way to go.
And so it was, before his death, he spoke
The poem that is his best, the final letter
To take to that old country as a passport.

Last updated March 26, 2023