To Frank Parker

By Robert Lowell 1917–1977 Robert Lowell
Forty years ago we were here
where we are now,
the same erotic May-wind blew
the trees from there to here—

the same tang of metal in the mouth,
the dirt-pierced wood of Cambridge.

Sometimes
you are so much younger than your face,
I know I am seeing your old face—
the hampered Henry James
mockery of your stutter,
your daily fear of choking, dying—
in school, loudness not words
gave character to the popular boy's voice.

We looked in the face of the other
for what we were.
Once in the common record heat
of June in Massachusetts,
we sat by the school pool
talking out the soul-lit night
and listened to the annual
unsuffering voice of the tree frogs,
green, aimless and wakened:
“I want to write.” “I want to paint.”

Was it I wanted you to paint? . . .

Age is another species,
the nothing-voiced. The very old
made grandfather look vulgarly young,
when he drove me to feed them at their home.

We will have their thoughtful look,
as if uncertain
who had led our lives.

The past changes more than the present.

Wherever there's grass, there is pollen,
the asthma of high summer—
the inclination to drink, not eat . . .

“Let us go into the garden,
or shall I say the yard?”
Why have you said this twice, Frank?
The garden has no flowers,
or choice of color,
the thick wet clump of grass
thins to red clay,
like an Indian's shaved and tufted head,
or yours—
we once claimed alliance with the Redskin.
What is won by surviving,
if two glasses of red wine are poison?


Robert Lowell, "To Frank Parker" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2003 by Harriet Lowell and Sheridan Lowell. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. www.fsgbooks.com.

Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2003)

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