HARLAN

You came, Harlan, to Rochester
somewhere in an endless winter,
“Ellison in Tundraland” you said.
We all chuckled approvingly.

You said a short prayer
climbing into the rusting Opel,
sliding on the edge
of oblivion, and
the approaching snowplow.

You stood, hoarse, smelling
of Borkum Riff and English Leather,
a tweed jacket over a polo shirt
and thinning jeans
and told us of the insanity
of television, a medium
pandering to idiots.
We nodded, hoping
you would finish before
the Star Trek rerun.

We sat in Pat and Sandy’s
as you consumed two orders
of fries, and a dwindling
bowl of ketchup. Later
we sat in the Rat, staring
at the empty bottles
of Boone’s Farm until
you took pity and ordered
two pitchers. You were
our patron saint.

Solzynitsyn was exiled
to a cabin in Vermont,
staring as the leaves greened
and fell under winter.
You served your banishment
in the land of lost souls,
miles from any reality.

First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)

IMPENDING DEPARTURE

They finally used the word
or one near enough to it
and she was not surprised,
she almost welcomed it.
You can grow jealous of those
with a depth of faith
that a sentence of months
or perhaps less is received
with grace and a smile, a nod
and a statement “I’m more
than ready to go home now,
back to my husband.”
I hope I will show such equanimity
when I am told my time
is quickly drawing to an end,
but I am left with great faith
in myself, and that may not suffice
as I prepare to slip away
into oblivion.