“Always Be Closing,” Liam told us—
abc of real estate, used cars,
and poetry. Liam the dandy
loved Brooks Brothers shirts, double-breasted
suits, bespoke shoes, and linen jackets.
On the day Liam and Tree married
in our backyard, Liam and I wore
Chuck’s burgundy boho-prep high-tops
that Liam bought on Fifth Avenue.
When the rain started, we moved indoors
and Liam read a Quartet aloud.
T.S. Eliot turned old and frail
at sixty, pale, preparing for death.
Then poets of new generations
died—Frank O’Hara first, then Jim Wright
with throat cancer in a Bronx hospice,
Sylvia Plath beside the oven,
Thom Gunn of an overdose, Denise
Levertov, Bob Creeley, Jane Kenyon...
In a New York bar, Liam told me
eccentric, affectionate stories
about a road trip in Tree’s country
of Montana, and the joy they felt
in the abundance of their marriage.
At Bennington Tree said, “Fourteen years
after the wedding in your backyard,
I love Liam with my entire heart.”
Liam’s face changed quickly as he spoke,
eyes and mouth erupting with gusto
as he improvised his outrageous,
cheerful, inventive obscenities.
When I first met him—I expounded
at a young poet’s do—his bearded
face was handsome and expressionless.
He would not defer to a poet
fifty years old! After a few months
he was revising my lines for me,
making the metaphors I couldn’t.
Even now, working at poems, I
imagine for a moment Liam
disassembling them. A year ago
he watched the progress of age turn me
skeletal, pale flesh hanging loosely
in folds from my arms, and thin rib-bones
like grates above a sagging belly.
His body would never resemble
my body. Four or five times a week
we wrote letters back and forth, talking
about class structure, about how Tree
took charge over the Academy
of American Poets, about
poems and new attacks on free speech...
When I won a notorious prize,
Liam sent me eighty-one notions
about projects I might undertake.
Number fifty-six instructed me:
“Urge poets to commit suicide.”
His whole life he spoke of suicide
lightly, when he wasn’t preserving
the First Amendment from Jesse Helms,
or enduring two colon cancers,
or watching films, or chatting with Tree,
or undergoing heart surgeries.
If he walked their dog Keeper one block,
he had to take nitroglycerin.
When Jane was dying, Liam and Tree
drove up to say goodbye. I wheelchaired
Jane to a pile of books by her chair
to find the color plate of Caillebotte’s
shadowy kitchen garden at Yerres
for the jacket of Otherwise, when
Tree would design it. I think of Jane’s
horror if she were alive to know
that on August fifteenth Liam pulled
the shotgun’s trigger. The night before,
wearing a tux over a yellow
silk shirt, he danced with Tree once again,
before bed and the morning’s murder.
He left Tree alone and desolate
but without anger. Tree knew Liam
did what he planned and needed to do.