John Lennon

By Mary Jo Salter b. 1954
The music was already turning sad,
      those fresh-faced voices singing in a round
            the lie that time could set its needle back

and play from the beginning. Had you lived
      to eighty, as you’d wished, who knows?—you might   
            have broken from the circle of that past

more ours than yours. Never even sure   
      which was the truest color for your hair
            (it changed with each photographer), we claimed

you for ourselves; called you John and named   
      the day you left us (spun out like a reel—
            the last broadcast to prove you’d lived at all)

an end to hope itself. It isn’t true,
      and worse, does you no justice if we call
            your death the death of anything but you.


II

It put you in the headlines once again:
      years after you’d left the band, you joined   
            another—of those whose lives, in breaking, link

all memory with their end. The studio   
      of history can tamper with you now,
            as if there’d always been a single track

chance traveled on, and your discordant voice   
      had led us to the final violence.
            Yet like the times when I, a star-crossed fan,

had catalogued your favorite foods, your views   
      on monarchy and war, and gaily clipped
            your quips and daily antics from the news,

I keep a loving record of your death.   
      All the evidence is in—of what,
            and to what end, it’s hard to figure out,

riddles you might have beat into a song.   
      A younger face of yours, a cover shot,
            peered from all the newsstands as if proof

of some noteworthy thing you’d newly done.

Mary Jo Salter, “John Lennon” from Henry Purcell in Japan (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Mary Jo Salter. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Henry Purcell in Japan (1984)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Mary Jo Salter b. 1954

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Music, Arts & Sciences, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

Poetic Terms Elegy

 Mary Jo Salter

Biography

Poet, editor, essayist, playwright, and lyricist Mary Jo Salter was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She grew up in Michigan and Maryland, and earned degrees from Harvard and Cambridge University. A former editor at the Atlantic Monthly, poetry editor at the New Republic, and co-editor of the fourth and fifth editions of the Norton Anthology of Poetry Salter’s thorough understanding of poetic tradition is clearly evident in her . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Music, Arts & Sciences, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Elegy

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.