Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Men Keep on Dying

              to the memory of Denis Johnson

The stranger bites into an orange
and places the rind between us
on the park bench.
It becomes a small raft of fire.

I came here to admire
the iron-lit indifference
of the geese on the pond.

The summers here
are a circuit in parallel
with everything I cannot say,
wrote the inventor
before he was hanged
from the bridge
this park is named after.
His entire life devoted
to capturing inextinguishable light
in a teardrop of enamel.
He was hanged for touching
the forehead of another man
in the wrong century.

The only thing invented
by the man I lost yesterday
was his last step into a final
set of parenthesis.
I came here to watch the geese
and think of him.

The stranger and I
share the orange rind
as an ashtray.
He lights my cigarette
and the shadows of our hands
touch on the ground.

His left leg is amputated
below the knee
and the bell tower rings
above the town.
I tell him my name
and he says nothing.

With the charred end of a stick
something shaped like a child
on the other side of the pond
draws a door on a concrete wall
and I wonder where the dead
wait in line to be born.

Credit


Copyright © 2020 by Michael McGriff. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 21, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem


“It's a blessing to become friends with writers. As it happens, sadly, those friends eventually leave this earth. The work remains where the body does not. I wrote this poem on the day my friend, the writer Denis Johnson, died. He was truly one of the very best of men, and I miss him.”
Michael McGriff

Author


Michael McGriff

Michael McGriff is the coauthor (with J. M. Tyree) of Our Secret Life in the Movies (A Strange Object, 2014) and the author of Early Hour (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), Black Postcards (Willow Springs Books, 2017), Home Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2012), and Dismantling the Hills (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008). He teaches creative writing at the University of Idaho.

Date Published: 2020-02-21

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/men-keep-dying