To John Knox Jessup
Whatever pops into your head, and whitely
Breaks surface on the dark stream that is you,
May do to make a poem—for every accident
Yearns to be more than itself, yearns,
In the way you dumbly do, to participate
In the world’s blind groping rage toward Truth, and once,
Long years ago, in Minneapolis,
Dark falling, snow falling to celebrate
The manger-birth of a Babe in a snowless latitude,
Church bells vied with whack of snow-chains on
Fenders, and down a side street, I,
Head thrust into snow-swirl, strove toward Hennepin,
Where lights and happiness undoubtedly were—
I not thinking of happiness however, only of
High-quality high-proof and the gabble in which
You try to forget that something inside you dies.
Then—hell!—it’s one knee down, half-sprawled, one hand on a hump,
The hump human. Unconscious, but
With snow scraped off, breath yet, and the putrid stink of
Non-high-quality, and vomit. So run, stumbling
Toward Hennepin, shouting, “Police!”
Ambulance finally. Driver: “Oh, Christ, another one!”
“Gonna live?” I ask. “Not if he’s lucky,” the paramedic
Says. Slams door. Tires skid. That’s all.
So half a continent, and years, away, and a different
Season too, I sit and watch
The first gold maple leaves descend athwart
My evergreens, and ponder
The mystery of Time and happiness and death.
My friend is just dead. And I wonder why
That old white bubble, this instant, bursts
On my dark and secret stream, and waiting, alone, I see
The nameless, outraged, upturned face, where blessèd
In shadow, domed architecture of snow, with scrupulous care,
Is minutely erected on each closed eye.
I had wiped them clear, just a moment before.
July 16, 1981