Elegy for Galway, Late October

for Galway Kinnell, 1926–2015

 

Someone says, “Galway cares

about everything.”

Now that he’s left, that’s left up to us.

Like the tree there at the corner

of Westview and West Lake,

some kind of maple, I think.

I stop and take home a leaf from it,

to page through my tree books with.

I can’t match it exactly. Sugar or silver

maple is my guess, but this book says

there are 148 varieties, worldwide.

I’m glad I’m not traveling somewhere away from here,

this time of year, late October, when, over just

a few days, that tree makes the shift from all-green

to a single golden bough, to whole golden areas,

to all-gold. I delight to watch that, every year.

I will try to remember Galway when I do.

It got so that when we’d see each other in a group,

we’d walk up to each other and touch forehead

to forehead. Not saying anything. I have read

that Maori men do that.

I am sitting out again today at 5:30 pm,

in the late light, so very beautiful.

In the one good metal chair in my yard

not carried off by the students

who have moved in along this street.

I get coffee from Five Points and bring it

back here. I feel like weeping, but I’m not

doing so. I try to start, but it doesn’t work.

You know how you can try to start

crying? Imagine how you look doing

that, trying to weep. Funny, like my grandson,

Henry, who is mostly too happy to cry.

 

Coleman Barks is a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was educated at the University of North Carolina and at the University of California, Berkeley. After early work on his own writing, Barks began in 1977 to collaborate with scholars of the Persian language to translate into American free verse the poetry of the thirteenth-century mystic, Jelaluddin Rumi. This work has resulted in twenty-two volumes, including the bestselling Essential Rumi (1995), Rumi: The Big Red Book (2010)—which collects thirty-four years of Barks’s work on Rumi’s ghazals and rubai— and most recently Rumi: Soul Fury: Rumi and Shams Tabriz on Friendship (HarperCollins, 2014). Barks taught American literature and creative writing at the University of Georgia for thirty years, and since his retirement he has turned more and more to his own writing—generous selections of which have appeared in our pages. His most recent collections, both from the University of Georgia Press, are Hummingbird Sleep, Poems 2009–2011 (2013) and Winter Sky: New and Selected Poems, 1968–2008 (2008). In 2005 the U.S. State Department sent him to Afghanistan as the first American visiting speaker there in twenty-five years, and in 2006 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Tehran. Barks has also been honored with the Juliet Hollister Award for his work in the interfaith area, and in 2009 he was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. He has two sons and five grandchildren, all of whom live near him in Athens, Georgia.