for Edmund White
Lunch: as we close the twentieth century,
death, like a hanger-on or a wanna-be
sits with us at the cluttered bistro
table, inflecting the conversation.
Elderly friends take lovers, rent studios,
plan trips to unpronounceable provinces.
Fifty makes the ironic wager
that his biographer will outlive him—
as may the erudite eighty-one-year-old
dandy with whom a squabble is simmering.
His green-eyed architect companion
died in the spring. He is frank about his
grief, as he savors spiced pumpkin soup, and a
sliced rare filet. We’ll see the next decade in
or not. This one retains its flavor.
“Her new book ...” “... brilliant!” “She slept with ...” “Really!”
Long arabesques of silver-tipped sentences
drift on the current of our two languages
into the mist of late September
midafternoon, where the dusk is curling
Just thirty-eight: her last chemotherapy
treatment’s the same day classes begin again.
I went through it a year before she
started; but hers was both breasts, and lymph nodes.
She’s always been a lax vegetarian.
Now she has cut out butter and cheese, and she
never drank wine or beer. What else is
there to eliminate? Tea and coffee ... ?
(Our avocado salads are copious.)
It’s easier to talk about politics
than to allow the terror that shares
both of our bedrooms to find words. It made
the introduction; it’s an acquaintance we’ve
in common. Trading medical anecdotes
helps out when conversation lapses.
We don’t discuss Mitterrand and cancer.
Four months (I say) I’ll see her, see him again.
(I dream my life; I wake to contingencies.)
Now I walk home along the river,
into the wind, as the clouds break open.