me in a hole, and give a cheer,
near Cedar on Lake Street, where the used cars live.
( ‘The Poet’s Final Instructions’ John Berryman, 1914-1972)
You should be rebaptised under a dark northern star,
Reborn a Wild Man of the Woods in rags and beard.
A voyageur through the pine-and-moss deserts of northern Minnesota,
You should rise from a clear lake like some latter day Lazarus,
A kettle of fish in one hand, Claudel’s The Way of the Cross
In the other. The loon’s tremolo gnawing the starry dark,
You’d utter like a Chippewa shaman beating his drum,
Retreat into the northern forests and experience visions.
Maybe, perhaps, you’d see more clearly, divine the true way.
The world might have wondered at your wanderings;
How you could mind-fish the cold waters of a thousand lakes.
Might you be content to be a hermit in the North Woods,
Living with the wild honeybee and the black bear?
What voices might buzz in your head
Like midges in the dark?
Yeats? Eliot? Thomas? Shakespeare? Mistress Bradstreet?
When there no more dreams to sing, you might have packed up the tent,
Drove to Stearns County, found a sanctuary in St John’s;
The Benedictine Rule might have been iron enough for you.
‘You’ve taken up your cross again!”
Christmas 1971: the city was stricken with newborn snow;
The wodwos were caged between the pages of your books.
The study lined with tomes and wisdom, you gave away nothing,
Declined all talk of Dublin, your previous wives,
How you waited like a traveller outside Dylan Thomas’ death in ’53.
You smoked another cigarette and cursed existence itself.
The Scotch and soda stagnating in your glass,
You sat amongst the incunabula of your life;
But this time you weren’t fooling anyone.
“I’m reading this world, I cannot experience it,
It is too much, too much for this short life.”
Were you really in recovery?
Your tormented laugh cracked its head
Against the walls and fell into tears.
For once, you had no wish to play out your passion
But, hey, St John of the Suffering, that was really quite a show
You staged the day after Epiphany,
Standing on the Washington Bridge and waving goodbye to the world.
The clear, holy waters didn’t catch you: the cold, dark earth did.