Once A Poet

He has the haunted look
of one bereft of Muses.
The trees conceal from him
their secret names;
the messenger ravens
no longer light
upon his lintel;
his curtains are drawn
against the pale white hands
that formerly beckoned
his insomniac scribbling.

Soundlessly and dreamless
he passes his nights.
The ink inside
his favorite pen
dry as Pompeian ash,
no longer yearns
to bleed itself
into a living poem.

The old journal
sits in a box
in an antique cabinet,
untouched as a mummy
in an undiscovered tomb.

How did he come to this?
Did he seek his Muse
in women,
bequeathing her gifts
to his children,
to his students,
or did he lose her
among the lawyers
and governing boards
that so consume
his hours?

“I used to leap
from peak to peak
like Shelley,”
he tells me.
But now he looks
before he leaps —
backwards and downwards,
calculating the risks,
the possible collisions
with other dreamers,
the futility of it all,
the caution of a muskrat
at water’s edge.

Shall I tell him the secret,
that everywhere he walks,
his Muse is waiting —
in the mica that glints
from his granite buildings,
in the shadowed space
beneath the dowager skirts
of the weeping beech,
in the unknown book
opened at random
for inspiration?
Or that she waits,
a scarf tied tight, a book
(the same book always
open to the same page,
where he left off),
unnoticed on a wooden bench
in sight of his office.

He has only to sit
with a blank sheet before him
and to call her name.

“Tell him,” she told me,
as I passed out of our meeting.
“I will,” I promised.


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