Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Two poems on a cold February morning

The first features James Joyce and his brother Stanislaus; the second the admirable Leonard J. Fleidner.

A few weeks after his mother died
James, the older son, brought a small table
And a chair into the garden.
To read his father’s love letters
Ribboned and kept by the dead woman.
(Frustrated at her hard dying, her husband
Had shouted “If you can’t get well,die
Die and be damned to you!”)
Watchful Stan, the younger brother, waited
Until the last letter was read.
“Well?” “Nothing. There is nothing for me here.”
The ashes of the letters he never read
Stan occasionally saw in his dreams.
Just before he died in Trieste
He called them up, and the chair
And the table and the garden
And ghost of his brother, reading. 

It cannot be that the principal, Doctor Fliedner,
Came to work in a high, stiff collar, wearing shoes
With buttons. Yet I picture him so, his pale face,
His quiet, watchful eyes. He seemed all greys
As if life had leached from him all color
And he walked without a sound. In the mornings
He’d stand sentry as we ambled or pushed inside
Then bear silent witness to our homeward rush.
Once in a great while, he would give in
To some unspeakable urge, sitting at the piano
Playing ragtime music, his body stiff,
While over the keys his long fingers danced.

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