Charlie Clark


Posthumous Plumly

It does some good to see him in New York;

or, because I never actually knew him there,

to think about him telling it, from the distance

of the page, usually, though in my head

still the shale-cold lines of his voice do turn,

an ingratiating humor just shy of intimate;

or to think about him not explaining why he left;

that in Maryland he warmed to telling stories

about it like Manhattan was London or Ohio,

each enlivened in the moderate pentameter

of his mind, the odd large tree so often blooming

its nervous branchwork and star-sharp leaves

among the wine, the cab rides, and the rash of semi-

famous friends made more luminous by dying

much the way he’d let a conversation die: frank,

hard-eyed, amused, still the conventional, childless,

adversarial brightness of a child enamored

with himself and wanting to impart to me

some useful variation of that office. Though

in my nervous assenting student’s silence I had

less in common with him then than with the visiting

poet who at the end of a reading’s Q and A claimed

in some overlong comparison to poetry’s pleasures

that we want candy bars for their chocolate. Stan,

in the back, visibly bored if you were watching,

lolling at the window’s oblong view of sky,

in a whisper staged for everyone to hear asked then why

do they call it Almond Joy? On that we cleared the room.

I think by then he was used to people who didn’t

know what to say to him, who had already started

to outgrow the uses of his genius. He still had to

will patience to soften his mind’s cumulative brick-

work precision rather than resort to his common

teacher’s knack for sidelong fury that sometimes

mistook itself for care. It’s why he sometimes let me

stare instead of answer. Once, while we waited

out my quiet, a bird actually crumpled into

his fourth-floor office window. I looked up

in time to see only a smear, the sky, and the social

smoke rings of students stepping out between

their classes rising. Trying, despite myself,

to preen, I asked whether he caught its species.

He said whatever it was by now I bet on ghost.

His humor was in dying, same as his gravity.

He once said death is an act of the imagination

and that a sixth of what nature does is meander

toward it. These things all blur the way he said

imitations, elegies, and odes tend to thread into

each other until you’re blinded with the words.

More than anything I am aware of what I failed

to learn from him. It floats above me often,

a detailed, stubble-gray cloud balanced out of reach,

almost the way the Romantics seem in his end-

less careful English research poems, the rainy ones,

walking directions after Keats, et al.; all imitations

cum quotations cum the living habits of his inquiry.

When I asked about the large swaths of their letters

he worked into those poems he said Jack London

copied whole chapters of Dickens out by hand

just to learn how one may think upon the page.

Though I suspect he also liked to be the one

keeping their dailiness from oblivion. And cherished

the foolishness of having heroes even as he aged.

Because I loved him and excelled at foolishness,

I told him how in Highgate once my brother and I

tried to climb St. Michael’s outer wall just to get

a picture of ourselves beside Coleridge’s resting

place. We didn’t even know then that his remains

had been misplaced, forgotten, waiting to be accidentally

found in some offshoot of the church’s wine

cellar, in 2018. We were turned away by nightfall,

my brother’s common sense, and the dense teeth

ring of glass cemented atop the wall. Stan especially

liked how someone—some joyless minor deacon likely—

felt god and the dead needed that much protection.

Liked too the detail of how after we gave up

and went to a nearby pub I lied and said was called

The Lime Tree, not the bartender, waitress,

or a single patron said they’d heard of Coleridge,

though there was a tiny reprint portrait of him—

van Dyke’s young-stud one, from 1795, with

the shocking, too-wide eyes—hung among

the dim bracken busying the bathroom’s grime.

That story he asked me to repeat at least once.

It does some kind of good to repeat it. The last time

I saw him was the first time I had seen him

in years. We stood in a Vermont field, watching

what the wind can do to grass. Given the cold,

the birds above us passed by bleak in their directions.

We were a long way into the green, and, given how

the air reduced us to the empirical water of our eyes,

far enough from most spoken parts of life. If asked

I could not have named a single tree in sight. But

because he preferred to make an ending of the middle’s

abrupt breath, the second-to-last time I saw him

seems both better and worse. He was getting on

an elevator. His bearing like his hair still striking, gone

somewhere adamant beyond all gray. It was chill,

February. I was standing outside, looking through

the building’s bank of windows when I caught his eye.

I did nothing, but recall how tenderly he waved.