Peter Filkins

At the Grave of Robert Lowell
January 25, 2023 Filkins Peter

At the Grave of Robert Lowell


Cruising Currier & Ives’ staid byway,
we sailed into Dunbarton by late morning,
the sought-for graveyard set off, ephemeral,
still rattled by the move back in ‘62
when the Corps dammed up the Piscataquog,
flooding your ancestors out as if to prove
your father’s occasionem cognosce
sic transit gloria alive, if not perennial.


Pinkish, smooth, empty of any trace
of frilled vulgarity, your gravestone stands
an outlaw to the antediluvian chain
of Starks and Winslows, arguing again
“We only live between before we are
and what we are,” each trapped within
the times that house us before release
to a wilderness of days, their terminal disease.


They are behind you now. Wives and children,
the tranquilized gray of each institution,
each reworked page of contrite ambition
all history, Latini’s bolt of green
yours to chase in some far, hazy Verona
freed of emperors, popes, or mortal battle.
Expelled like your parents from the diurnal,
time is your republic, earth your exile.


Yet what is life for except to refute
whatever dread hand constricts the throat?
Fragile, injurious, but still holding sway,
commanding court among your peerage,
what would you say? Or do you look on
aghast, speechless at a nation’s wounds
wrapped in razor wire, its plebiscite
of misguided rage, its confederacy of liars.


The stones are mute. Manic with chatter,
a chipmunk sits on top a mossy boulder
indignant at our lingering here too long.
A catbird mimics the cardinal’s song
as wind wafts through pine, lowing
its balsam hymn, while irrespective
of the chipmunk’s panic, we retreat
and drive off, not knowing toward what.

Peter Filkins has published five collections of poetry, most recently Water / Music (Johns Hopkins 2021). Recent work of his has appeared in Raritan, Boston Review, and The New Criterion. He teaches at Bard College.