The visitor stands at the grave in knee-high snow.
He’s been calling your house since 1962
Asking for you.
Is he a distant or close relation to
That man in Baltimore who annually visits Poe?
Certainly you would know.
And if this man who calls you should break through,
What Loneliness, Time, and Pain must he endure
At your father’s door?
Brushing aside that meddling sister of yours
He calls upstairs, “Emily, my darling, my dear,
There is nothing to fear!”
Don’t greet him in the frills and curls you acquired late,
Long after the Romantics claimed you,
But come down as you
Always were, your hair tucked in a tight bun,
Your limbs loose in a drab, light summer dress
The color of afternoon sun,
The armpits and a flare up the back darkened with sweat
(For you have been sweeping all morning), your shoes
Dusty, impossibly small.
Come down to the parlor, dear, and rest.
Don’t talk around the corner like a ghost,
Or too sly a host;
That ploy worked well enough on disabled Higginson,
And on ancient Wadsworth, so stiff with God
He couldn’t bend.
Do not descend in a cloud of impossible cadences
And punctuation like slaps to the face—this one is yours,
All man and boy, your poetry toy
Who loves your jokes, and your laughter
Like water lapping in Heaven,
Who would take you as you are.
Still you test his devotion, serving him the heavy cake
You made from scratch the night (or the half-century?) before;
Your sister returns, the bore.
Sipping bitter tea she claims each word you say,
Or worse, presumes to say them for you.
That just won’t do!
Your caller whispers in her ear, “Get lost! Your Sis and I
Need time alone, comprendé?” With your taste for the exotic,
The far-away you’ll never see,
That single, foreign word rings like a wedding bell.
You shoo your flesh-and-blood away,
If only for a day.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 14 Number 6, on page 36
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