For Tom Parkinson
I see you often at night.
You stand alone and silent
and I watch you from your left
(always; I do not know why):
shocked fingertips of bandage
white on white, the only change.
You stand tall, silent. I think
of poets hurt, of poets
dead for reasons not their own:
Rilke killed by a rose thorn,
Lorca killed by the Fascists
and Stephen by a shotgun:
not romantic, not tragic,
but senseless, as most death is.
The men at work joke: "They got
another professor, Mike."
Don't blame them, they do not know.
The rose thorn, the firing-squad
and the shotgun did not know.
There is no one I can blame
(who arms the assassins, who?)
No one speaks for your silence
and the shocked white fingertips.
(There is no bandage, no blood,
no Stephen in that long dream,
nor anyone I can name.)
Working at the garbage dump,
gulls screaming, blood on their beaks,
spinning in long angry wheels
(clockwise, always from my left),
I remembered the classroom
and you: tall, never silent,
smirking, voice harsh as a gull's,
speaking of poets and life,
of romance, of tragedy,
with a selfish wit: silly,
sometimes, but never senseless,
and sometimes giving the words
that ring in the mind for years.
And you on the picket line,
smiling and telling stories
as if it were a classroom,
your presence so natural.
(Your presence meant much to us.)
White as bandages, blood-beaked,
the gulls spun screaming, screaming.
(In the dream you are silent.)
I threw senseless rocks at them
and hit one on the right cheek,
knocked him down, left him to die
beating empty wings, his eyes
bright with pain. (There is no one
I can blame. I did not know.)
Awkward, to imagine death
in your office, among books
and warm talk of live poets.
I do not dream your office,
the shotgun, Stephen, or death:
only you and your silence
and the stiff white fingertips
that clamp your face to brooding.
"Not at all academic,"
I say, because I can say
nothing to peel those fingers
away to Never-happened.
Death should come from enemies
a man can hate; hurt also:
but not like this, with no words
for blame, for planning, no words . . .
(Who arms the assassins? Who?
Do you know, in your silence?)
That a man acts as a man
justifies no white fingers . . .
. . . you see? I can find no words.
There is only the long dream,
and my arm, sore from throwing.
c. April 1961