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Claudia Goodbye

From a Roman Epitaph

ISSUE:  Autumn 1962

Claudia the Roman hailed us from her grave.
Stand, stranger, friend, and read me. What I say
is not much. Pride shortens words to the way-
farer’s haste, the desperate “traveller, stay”
is said with dignity. Remember me.
The tomb is nothing. I was beautiful.
Or it’s the stone that spoke in letters. She
was lovely, not the monument, to see.
Claudia was the name her parents gave.
She loved her husband in her heart, it says,
deilexit, diligently, with delight
or what? And from such loving nights and days
together, she gave birth
to two sons, one of whom she left on earth
and one beneath it when she lost her light
(Cornelia with one dead jewel now).
Read on. Pleasant to talk to, and her step was neat.
Did I not tell you she was beautiful?
She was a housekeeper. She worked in wool.
And that is all, for I have spoken. Go.

She lives in letters, and the gravestone’s art
pins down forever one time out of time,
and stops the squeeze of death that stopped the heart
so long as the eyes read, and the words chime,
and the brain loves the shape behind the rhyme,
and Psyche stirs in the embrace of butterflies
and eyes that were her eyes and are my eyes.

So, Claudia. And have you told us all?
You speak so well, and can you not recall
just some unlicensed moment from behind the grave?
We ask no confidence, but was there not some incomplete
time, sense of failure, moments not so neat
to gather to your basket, when that precious wool
was dead in the fingers, and the mind gone dull
and stale with ease and trying to contrive
some fact to want and want and not to have,
and the desire to want lost in the course
of state and matron’s honors and the full
long dutiful and dedicated hours?
Speak, Claudia, Speak.
                                                               But I have spoken. Call
no more.
                         But was this all? Claudia, all?

I speak for her. I am the gravestone. I
tell you, good friend, in Claudia’s name, goodbye.
Now give her leave to say: Leave me alone.
Your Claudia is written on the stone
for you to read. The rest is Claudia’s own.


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