Of all the disappointments
Consider those great men
Who passed each other smoking cigars
In some hotel corridor
Looking each for his own key,
Like Joyce and Proust meeting once
And Joyce so tired he fell asleep at their dinner
(Proust rewriting a death scene
Months later fell asleep and died).
Think of that opportunity,
The amazing glittering remarks
On the novel‘s mimesis of time.
Or take the afternoon I met Kenneth Burke
Through his son-in-law who wrangled me an invitation
(To a farm in New Jersey, I recall).
I carried, fresh from grad school,
A copy of Grammar of Motives
The tousled-hair stooped philosopher inscribed
Which I have since lost.
Nor can I remember a single thing he said.
Once, in my father‘s last illness,
We spent a whole week alone together.
Each day I sponged and fed him,
And took his sugar count.
All that time he did not say a word,
Even when I‘d come with the needle.
I believe he probably knew I was there—
I‘m positive he did for one moment,
Our eyes meeting over the wreckage of his chest.
Then he moved his head, gravely,
As if just looking away to clear his thoughts,
Only to face the wall.