(William Matthews, 1942–1997)
“Ah, all the elves are at the toyshop,” he said,
looking up as he approached the porch,
meaning, I thought then, to refer to the others
as mischief-makers, revelers, fellow weirdoes,
which of course they were, and he was too,
and flashed us a look of expensive laughter
so eloquent only a clown or child could’ve done it.
Like money, he kept us in circulation.
His lines dazzled and we clapped our hands
with delight, full of envy and joy
at what he could do. So much we didn’t know
how to say, or to avoid saying,
he put into words for us like an amused parent
helping the kids with an assignment.
Each poem seemed both new and familiar
as the girl of our dreams, who is, he remarked
once, the worst possible woman to marry,
and we did anyway, and didn’t he
know it, didn’t he ramble, didn’t he?
What could you expect from someone who dealt
in “stand-up tragedy,” as he thought of the art?
With him seemed to go whole jazz recordings.
Nights of music he liked to think of
himself as part of, playing chorus
after chorus on one number or another,
suddenly ceased to exist, vanished,
as if he’d only conjured them up, while we
thumb through his books, hoping to find traces of them.
Now we patrons at the Bar of the Flattened
Heart, each of us left fumbling over old songs,
turning over memories like small change,
we will have to learn to get on without him.
And why not? We have each other, of course,
and our own self, that constant
companion to be true to, if we cared to
or could remember how. Why not? All the elves
are at the toyshop. All but the one.
From The Bar of the Flattened Heart
By David Keller