…and to begin again, the night was dark and dreary, and
The Captain said to his trusty Lieutenant, “Lieutenant,

Tell us a story.” And the Lieutenant: “The night was—“ And I
Have heard on the creaky stairs at night an old man’s

Dragging step approach my door. He pauses for breath, and I
Can hear the chain-rattle of phlegm in the painful intake,

But I never know whose father it is, or son,
Or what mission leads to my locked door. If I

Should open it, he might call me by my name. Or yours.
And if he did, then what, what might occur?

And once, not knowing where, in what room, in what city even,
You lay in the dark, and a finger,

Soft as down and with a scent
Unidentifiable, but stirring your heart to tears,

Like memory, was laid to your lips. “Now—“
Came the whisper. But is there a now or a then?

And you hear in the dark, at street level above
Your basement apartment window, tires hiss on wet asphalt.

You do not know whence they come, nor whither go,
And so lie laughing alone with a sound like a strangled loon-call,

Till, slop-gray, dawn-light defines the bars of your window,
And you hear the cough and mastication of

The garbage truck in the next block. “God—“
You think, with a stab of joy, “He loves us all. He will not

Let all distinction perish.” You cannot pray. But
You can wash your face in cold water.

This Issue

October 14, 1976