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.