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The Descent

ISSUE:  Summer 1981
One of these fine days all those who wronged you,
Having failed to forgive themselves, will return
And row ashore, a raggedy crew,
Like Homer’s battered Greeks returning from war.
Up from the dock they’ll stagger
With armloads of drenched gifts
To stand on your lawn in dumb appeal.
And you’ll keep still, inside,
Willing to forgive all
So long as you’re let alone,
Now that you’ve managed to grow calm.

This won’t be enough for them,
To be waved at from behind the window
By the tolerant stranger you are now.
They’ll want forgiveness from the man you were.
Is he so lost that you can’t summon him back,
Raise him a moment from the grave
To speak a few kind words and then fade?
That’s all it will take, they promise,
To provide their battered open boat with a home,
A beach in Ithaka for their old age.

And all you have to do to recall him
Is descend with no candle the dark mouth
Of the cave, and unlock his musty rooms,
As you watch him
And cry as you watch him make the same mistakes
In the same trembling way, eyes on the ground,
And then climb back, weaker, with no news,
No lover’s fondest wish or father’s counsel
Fading in your ears as you limp along.


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