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Late Poem

ISSUE:  Fall 2005

for Donald Justice (1925–2004)

The late evening fog comes quickly in again,
pours over the same San Francisco you once loved.
Now, the silence is what I notice most
here along the Great Highway, the flowers
brighter now for lack of simple sunlight.
You didn’t die in the rain. You didn’t die
in Miami. And I cannot know, will never know,
if there was, in fact, sunlight leafing through
the papers in your room, sunlight sifting through
the half-empty trash can sitting near the bed.
Out on the Great Highway, the cars keep
moving. As you said, everything keeps moving.
But what keeps a voice moving, old friend?
What prompts us to open our mouths and sing,
once again, the same sad song you knew so well?
Orpheus could not help but turn back, his voice
falling into the black river, his eyes fixated
on the darkness within the rotting trees lining
that terrible road. So turn back, old teacher,
sing for us again with a voice now young, agile.
My song is too simple, divided both by blood
and profession. The right words? Where would I
find them? The clock laments, perhaps, what I have done
and what I have yet to do. I haven’t changed much,
you know. Now, like then, my nagging indecision
translates into a late poem. Accept this one, teacher,
accept this song I can barely hum over the wind,
my voice far less beautiful than your own.


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