The Last Scene

By Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952
Extravagant sweep
                         of clear sky
                                           darkening
in the big picture window
                                     beside the bed,
lights here and there
                               already flashing all
across the city down below us—
                                              Ellen
and the girls out somewhere,
                                          you and I alone,
you with your eyes closed,
                                       I with a drink in hand:
you suddenly in character,
                                        your voice
a wraith’s voice,
                         faint, stumbling,
                                                   slurry
with morphine,
                     and yet
                               still artful
                                                 as ever,
even if the art
                      was obvious,
the dying brother
                      playing the dying brother—
Do you think
                  you have a problem
                                             with that?
                                                            the question   
masking a declaration,
                                 the brother
                                                 a savior,   
the savior a judge,
                            not all that different from   
before except that now
                                 the dying had   
distilled
             all doubt away
                                  as you repeated,   
Do you think
                  you have a
                                 problem?
                                                “Me? With what?”   
I too in character now,
                                  the character   
without character,
                           the little brother who   

in your mind proves
                              the truth
                                           of all you think   
by his resistance to it,
                                    pulling
                                                the scene off   
by refusing to play it,
                                  pretending not to know:
“With what?”
                With that,
                                  head tilted to the shot
glass,
         “This?”
                   my one desire now
                                             a little shtick,
a final moment
                     of material—
                                       “This?
A problem?
               Not at all.
                               There’s plenty more
where that came from,
                               almost a whole bottle.”
You imperturbable,
                           Look at yourself,
how you sit here
                           drinking all alone.
                                                       “Well, mea
gulpa.
         Are you happy now?”
                                     You drink
a lot.
         “I have a lot
                              to drink about.”
And that was that.
                            For now you drifted off,
or seemed to,
                     your eyes closed,
                                                head turned away,   
the two of us
                     together
                                  for the last
time ever on the stage
                                  of being brothers,
our see-through
                        figures in the picture window   
spectral and vast
                           against the city
                                                    flashing
a ghostly circuitry
                              of nerves
                                             within
the ancient masks we wore,
                                        the hand I lifted,
the drink I knocked back
                                     in a final toast
in honor of the timing,
                                  the concentration
that neither
                   one of us
                                  could ever break.

Alan Shapiro, “The Last Scene” from Song and Dance. Copyright © 2002 by Alan Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

Source: Song and Dance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002)

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Poet Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Health & Illness, Death, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Alan R. Shapiro

Biography

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Alan Shapiro was educated at Brandeis University. As the author of numerous collections of poetry, Shapiro has explored family, loss, domesticity, and the daily aspects of people’s lives in free verse and traditional poetic forms. He has published over ten books of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel (2014); Night of the Republic (2012), a finalist for the National Book Award and the Griffin Prize; . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Health & Illness, Death, Living, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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