How many people I had been before this poem was written, how many I was during the sustained moment of its composition, how many immediately upon its completion, how many I have been since then, how many I am now, and how many I will be if I survive this unwieldy sentence, all while being who I am in any recognizable, cohesive sense, is, I imagine, at least partly answered in its twenty lines, by what they include, and by what they leave out. But I could say that about all of the other poems, which is why I don’t.
Shall We Go See the Old Man?
Shall we go see the old man?
I hear their voices all the way across town,
Across the country, I hear them in Denver, Colorado,
I hear them in Ohio and Vermont, yes, let’s go and see him,
Let’s go see the old man.
I plant flowers for the occasion, watch them grow and die.
I bury the neighbor’s cat because she no longer has a husband.
A lone dry cornstalk rustles by her bedroom window.
Did Walter miss her so much that he returned?
Then one day she pulls him out by the roots,
Inhales his cloud of dust. Is that what becomes of us?
Shall we go see the old man? Shall we take him out to dinner?
He’ll need a clean shirt, a shower, and a shave.
And what about his sheets? It’s more than I can bear.
What do you mean, Daddy, you haven’t seen us in a year.
I mean where were you. I mean that I’ve been here.
But we stopped by yesterday. Don’t you remember?
My daughter washes my hands and arms.
Am I really this far gone? Do I say I love you,
Or leave me alone?
Songs and Letters, March 2, 2007