Both impish and impudent in word and deed,
But oh, how luxuriant of limb, how scandalous the skin,
Child-man, nude prince, debased and laughing in my bed.
The wicked wink, the graphic grin, partly amuse and partly appall;
You are as one lost amongst his riches
For your riches are so completely lost upon you:
Youth and vigor, time and possibility,
Are an inheritance
Whose value you scarce appreciate.
It is not Truth –
Is not quite you, nor yet quite me –
But something spectered in between us
That imbues me with the magisterial wisdom
Of an elder king.
And through not my eyes but his I see
How your riches shall become as obstacles, regrets
Strewn across your path, laying your kingdom to waste.
Somnambulant child-man, sweet nude prince,
You only yawn when I try to explain these things –
Not bored, you protest, only needful of sleep;
And falter, flounder, grow dismayed
As I worry at you with my distress:
For what could all that matter to you,
What comparison contest
Your languorous, blind security?
Let your drooping eyes close then;
I shall keep watch while you sleep.
I shall pass my time in the cherishing
Of that which perishing time won't keep.
O you who are now what I once was,
Make a sport of my vanity:
Dream the dreams of youth, of vigor, of possibility,
While I, who am fast becoming what you hope never to be,
Keep my vigil against the ghostly guest
That is neither you, nor is me
I had not seen Robert in quite a long time. More than ten years
had passed since he and I had been lovers, and I seldom thought of him
anymore. Still, I felt the need to call him one day recently on
the telephone to ask whether it would be convenient for him to allow
me to stop by for a visit. I had, I said, a small favor to ask.
As always when he has run into me somewhere or heard from me unexpectedly
over the years (there was a time when I called him quite frequently), he
didn't seem the least bit surprised. As always, I found the casualness
of his manner strangely unsettling. I never quite knew whether it
was meant to signify a welcome so complete that it required no further
emphasis or a complete lack of concern. At any rate, he agreed
to see me later that day. He'd recently bought the house across
the street from his own, he told me, for his mother to live in; it
needed a lot of work done on it in order to get it ready for her, and
part of his evening would be taken up with that. But later on
would be fine.
When I got to Robert's house he was busy doing some paperwork for his
job and so, out of politeness, I came straight to the point.
What I wanted, I said, was to know if he had any copies left of an
old poem of mine which had recently been much on my mind. I had
no copies left myself, having decided long ago that the poem wasn't any
good; but lately I'd been thinking I might have been wrong in that
judgment and was hoping to get a second look at it. He said he
was under the impression that I'd taken away everything belonging to me,
poems and all, years ago. He was right of course. When our
relationship had ended I'd routed his house in a fit of pique and removed
everything of mine I could find; I hadn't wanted him to have anything
left to mourn over and cherish after I'd gone. Of course, he'd
never have done that anyway – he's not that type of sentimental
man. I am. He would have kept anything for me that I'd
asked him to – naturally; and then he'd have simply forgot all
about it. But as it turned out, I was the one who had really
forgotten. I'd forgotten the petty emotionalism of my youth,
forgotten my peevishness, my brattishness. I'd forgotten of my
desire to hurt him. I didn't tell him any of this, however, but
said to never mind; the poem was probably lost for good, and probably
that was just as well. Probably the poem hadn't been worth much
to begin with. And probably this is true.
I asked if he'd like to take a moment to talk, to catch up on our
lives, and though he didn't have much time he did tell me a little of
his mother. He was moving her close to him, he said, because
she'd lately been showing signs of a growing weakness in her mind.
She was becoming uncertain and vague, increasingly forgetful, lost track
of time – that sort of thing. This was of course a
frightening process for her to endure, and a painful one for Robert
to watch. I remembered that the thought of dependence on
others, of someday becoming too feeble in body or mind to be able to
take care of himself, was always a particular horror of his. I
told him that although I wouldn't want to second-guess anyone's
journey down such a difficult path, I'd always felt that the loss of
one's mental faculties might not be so bad if we could just learn to
gradually let them go. To accept one's fate, no matter how
unpleasant – and what else, after all, can any of us do? –
might yield some hitherto unforeseen insight which would make endurance
easier to achieve. Of course, the ability to do this might
require a clarity of wisdom which, in his mother's case, the loss of
mental acuity would itself render forfeit. And what the answer
to that was I really did not know. Still . . .
Robert gave a sudden sigh as I was saying all this and abruptly
lifted himself up out of his chair. "Well," he said,
"as for me, I'd rather commit suicide if it came to that."
This was an unsettling remark – but I could see he meant it.
I responded with a laugh. "Robert," I said, "if it
ever really did come to that, rest assured: you can always depend
on me. I'd happily drop by anytime and do you in. Oh, yes,"
I cried, "I'd be glad to do that for you anytime – anytime at
I'd only intended this as a sort of joke and was surprised myself at
the crude sound of the words as they left my mouth. Many of the
people I associate with now enjoy this rude sort of humor, particularly
when it comes to matters of human intention and the vagaries of fate.
Not so with Robert. I felt suddenly that I'd embarrassed myself
and began to apologize, but he only waved my words aside, then
began walking me towards the door. I was left with no recourse but
to exchange my apology for a sigh. It had, after all, always been
like this with him. Robert had always refused to take personally other
people's ungracious remarks, preferring to assume instead that they had
betrayed some weakness of their own to him and, in so doing, had shown
the need for some small gesture of forgiveness. There was a time,
I imagine, when his forgiveness had taken the form of a sort of genial
accommodation, which in turn would have given the other person a moment
in which they might make things right; but eventually Robert's ability
to sympathize with the faults of others had hardened in him until, by
slow degrees, he had developed a protective shell, which he'd then
rationalized into a philosophy by which sympathy was subordinated to
a rigidly defined sense of individual responsibility. He had
always refused to lean on anyone else and thus saw no reason to allow
them to lean on him. When I was younger I recognized this as a
source of strength in him but did not altogether understand it; it
seemed to me that it created an emotional barrier between us which I
could never overcome. Robert is nearly twenty years older than
I; he was, so to speak, always ahead of my time. And yet, as I
grow closer now to the age he was when we first met, I find myself feeling
and acting much the same as he did then. For life, as I have
come to find out, is in some ways like a sentence imposed upon us, a
cross we must bear – and we must each of us learn to bear as
much of its burden as we can alone.
As I left Robert's house, got into my car and drove away, I
remembered something else I'd said to him once many years ago.
If it is true, I'd said, that we are each of us, in the most profound
sense, alone, then perhaps the most important thing we can do with
our lives is to find out what that aloneness is really about.
For what else can we do but play the hand we are dealt, solve as much
of the riddle of ourselves as we can, and hope that the most important
discoveries we might make will be those we make within?
And yet, to live this way has not been easy. To live alone
– to be alone, truly alone in this world – is
a desperate choice. It requires a willingness to face many a
long, empty night when the realization of how empty emptiness is chills
one to the bone. Who would choose to live such a life?
Only one who believed that no other choice was possible . . .
My shadow lost amongst shadows why can't I be
Lying in the dark myself alone known and unknown
Birds heralding dawn the last straw, endless night