In Loving Memory of the Late Author of Dream Songs
Friends making off ahead of time on their own, I call that willful, John, but that's not judgement, only argument such as we've had before. I watch a shaky man climb a cast-iron railing in my head, on a Mississippi bluff, though I had meant to dissuade him. I call out, and he doesn't hear. 'Fantastic! Fantastic! Thank thee, dear Lord' is what you said we were to write on your stone, but you go down without so much as a note. Did you wave jauntily, like the German ace in a silent film, to a passerby, as the paper said? We have to understand how you got from here to there, a hundred feet straight down. Though you had told us and told us, and how it would be underground and how it would be for us left here, who could have plotted that swift chute from the late height of your prizes? For all your indignation, your voice was part howl only, part of it was caress. Adorable was a word you threw around, fastidious John of the gross disguises, and despair was another: 'this work of almost despair.' Morale is what I think about all the time now, what hopeful men and women can say and do. But having to speak for you, I can't lie. 'Let his giant faults appear, as sent together with his virtues down,' the song says. It says suicide is a crime and that wives and children deserve better than this. None of us deserved, of course, you. Do we wave back now, or what do we do? You were never reluctant to instruct. I do what's in character, I look for things to praise on the riverbanks and I praise them. We are all relicts, of some great joy, wearing black, but this book is full of marvelous songs. Don't let us contract your dread recidivism and start falling from our own iron railings. Wave from the fat book again, make us wave back.
Reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright (c) 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.