Tony Trigilio


Elegy for a Poet

            -- Douglas Radcliff-Umstead, 1940-1992

You're stretched, washed-out, too angry for a corpse,
Cheeks caught between freezing/bursting, as if still
Swallowing water, but your mouth sewn shut.
If morticians are artisans, this one got it wrong.
Barely classical music plays somewhere,
We file to chairs, the embalmer taps a mike,
You're still drowning, he got it wrong, your mouth pulled
Back, whipped by waves. They bury you in eyeglasses,
Magnifiers, fitting for a poet -- but the mouth
Pulled back, halting, lost so far in metaphor
The poem speaks for you: author dead, we decay.

You taught the fortune teller's death by water,
I recall our talks cut short by trains,
Buses, classes to teach, our time stopped now
Death tucks you away. Like the fool, I wish for pearls
Of transformation, for something I cannot see, for time
To live the poems that we write. Damn the symbols:
Jet fuel filled you, you swallowed Flushing Bay.
We are too big for symbols, boundaries, and I talk too much.
You drowned. Snow fell. People breathed. Snow fell.
I cry at your mouth sewn shut. The world gapes too wide
For poems today, the water burns my eyes.