In memory of Charles P. Sifton (1935–2009)

I remember the judge in a particular
Light brown chalk-stripe suit
In which he looked like a boy,
Half hayseed, half long face, half wild horse on the plains,
Half the poet Boris Pasternak with a banjo pick,
Plucking a twanging banjo and singing Pete Seeger labor songs.

I remember a particular color of
American hair,
A kind of American original orange,
Except it was rather red, the dark colors of fire,
In a Tom Sawyer hairstyle,
Which I guess means naturally

Unjudicial and in a boyish
Will Rogers waterfall
Over the forehead,
And then we both got bald…
My Harvard roommate, part of my heart,
The Honorable Charles Proctor Sifton of the Eastern District.

Harvard sweet-talked you and me into living in Claverly
Sophomore year, where no one wanted to be.
We were the elect, stars in our class selected
To try to make this palace for losers respected.
The privileged would light the working fireplaces of the rejected.

Everyone called you Tony except me, and finally—
After years—you told me you had put up with years of “Charlie”
From me, but it had been hard!
Yes, but when now
I made an effort to call you Tony, it sounded so odd to you,
You begged me to come back home. Your Honor,

The women firefighters you ruled in favor of lift their hoses high,
Lift their hoses high,
Like elephants raising their trunks trumpeting.
Flame will never be the same. Sifton, row the boat ashore.
Then you’ll hear the trumpet blow.

Then you’ll hear the trumpet sound.
Trumpet sound
The world around.
Flame will never be the same!
Sifton, row the boat ashore.
Tony and Charlie is walking through that door.

This Issue

March 11, 2010