James has cancer. Catherine has cancer. Melvin has AIDS. Whom will I call, and get no answer? My old friends, my new friends who are old, or older, sixty, seventy, take pills before or after dinner. Arthritis scourges them. But irremediable night is farther away from them; they seem to hold it at bay
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Wine again. The downside of any evening’s bright exchanges, scribbled with retribution : stark awake, a tic throbs in the left temple’s site of bombardment. Tortured syntax, thorned thoughts, vocabulary like a forest littered with unexploded cluster bombs, no exit except explosion ripping the branches. Stacks of shadowed books on the bedside table wall a jar of Tiger Balm. You grope for its glass netsuke hexagon. Tic stabs, dull pain supercedes voices, stills obsessive one-sided conversations. Turn from mouths you never will kiss, a neck your fingers will not trace to a golden shoulder. Think of your elders — If, in fact, they’d died, the interlocutors who, alive, recede into incoherence, you would write the elegy, feel clean grief, still asking them questions — though you know it’s you who’d provide the answers. Auden’s Old People"s Home, Larkin’s The Old Fools are what come to mind, not Yeats. In a not-so distant past, someone poured a glass of wine at three in the morning, laid a foolscap pad on the kitchen table, mind aspark from the long loquacious dinner two hours behind her, and you got a postcard (a Fifties jazz club) next day across town, where she scrawled she’d found the tail-end of a good Sancerre in the fridge and finished the chapter. Now she barely knows her friends when you visit. Drill and mallet work on your forehead. Basta! And it is Màrgaret you mourn for.. Get up, go to the bathroom. You take the drugs. Synapses buzz and click. You turn the bed lamp on, open a book : vasoconstrictor and barbiturate make words in oval light reverberate. The sky begins to pale at five o’clock.