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BETTER DAYS

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Never anymore in a wash of sweetness and awe
does the summer when I was seventeen come back
to mind against my will, like a bird crossing

my vision. Summer of moist nights full of girls
and boys ripened, holy drunkenness and violation
of the comic boundaries, defiances that never

failed or brought disaster. Days on the backs
and in the breath of horses, between rivers
and pools that reflected the cicadas' whine,

enervation and strength creeping in smooth waves
over muscular water. All those things accepted,
once, with unnoticing hunger, as an infant

accepts the nipple, never come back to mind
against the will. What comes unsummoned now,
blotting out every other thought and image,

is a part of the past not so deep or far away:
the time of poverty, of struggle to find means
not hateful—the muddy seedtime of early manhood.

What returns are those moments in the diner
night after night with each night's one cup of coffee,
watching an old man, who always at the same hour

came in and smiled, ordered his tea and opened
his drawing pad. What did he fill it with?
And where's he gone? Those days, that studious worker,

hand moving and eyes eager in the sour light,
that artist always in the same worn-out suit,
are my nostalgia now. That old man comes back,

the friend I saw each day and never spoke to,
because I hoped soon to disappear from there,
as I have disappeared, into the heaven of better days.

Source: Poetry

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This poem originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of Poetry magazine

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BETTER DAYS

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