A Postmortem Guide*
for my eulogist, in advance
Do not praise me for my exceptional serenity.
Can’t you see I’ve turned away
from the large excitements,
and have accepted all the troubles?
Go down to the old cemetery; you’ll see
there’s nothing definitive to be said.
The dead once were all kinds—
boundary breakers and scalawags,
martyrs of the flesh, and so many
dumb bunnies of duty, unbearably nice.
I’ve been a little of each.
And, please, resist the temptation
of speaking about virtue.
The seldom-tempted are too fond
of that word, the small-
spirited, the unburdened.
Know that I’ve admired in others
only the fraught straining
to be good.
Adam’s my man and Eve’s not to blame.
He bit in; it made no sense to stop.
Still, for accuracy’s sake you might say
I often stopped,
that I rarely went as far as I dreamed.
And since you know my hardships,
understand they’re mere bump and setback
against history’s horror.
Remind those seated, perhaps weeping,
how obscene it is
for some of us to complain.
Tell them that at the end I had no need
for God, who ’d become just a story
I once loved, one of many
with concealments and late-night rescues,
high sentence and pomp. The truth is
I learned to live without hope
as well as I could, almost happily,
in the despoiled and radiant now.
You who are one of them, say that I loved
my companions most of all.
In all sincerity, say that they provided
a better way to be alone.
A Postmortem Guide (2)
once again for my eulogist, in advance
You, too, are eighteen years older now,
and no doubt will say these roughly similar words
with a different sense of gravitas. I’ve changed,
but not as much as the world has.
I thought I had accepted all the troubles,
which is no longer true. And rage these days
has depleted that exceptional serenity
I once wanted you to claim I had.
Since you moved away we’ve hardly spoken,
and I ’d understand if you feel you’re now
the wrong man for the job. Back then
you were the only one who knew I had
an incurable disease. Well, no longer
can it be hidden. I stumble and fall,
shake and drool, but history’s daily horror
trumps any condition of mine. What is it
compared to genocides and demagoguery?
There will be fewer people at the service this time,
perhaps a few grandchildren, maybe even a few
others who’ve read a few of my poems.
Tell them it was true, I did think I ’d die at sixty,
in my prime, in love with mystery and its words,
someone who tried to listen to his inner voice.
What I wished for you to say was sincere. Then
I met a woman who chose to marry me, a man
unguaranteed, a selfish man who said he ’d give her
five years. Tell them it was she who bargained
for ten, then fifteen, and is holding out for more.
Tell them everyone needs a persuasive advocate
to forestall the oncoming desolations of the heart.
If there are tears then, trust that you have broken
through to where thoughts of me have let loose
in them thoughts of opportunities they’ve missed,
a splendor unlived. Steady your voice, and tell them
even if we’ve known despair it’s possible
with some luck and some love to wander
sometimes happily, in the despoiled and radiant now.
End that way, because the whole truth,
as I’ve tried to say before,
is nothing anyone has to know.
*Originally published in the Fall 1999 issue of The Georgia Review