I've wanted to write my way into paradise,
leaving the door open for others... Instead
I am scribbling, beneath its wall, with the door shut.
-- David Ignatow
This is where we came to swim
around the grassy islands, past dories
and osprey nests hoisted high
under the muted blues, ravenous reds
and lush hospitable yellows
of the wide East Hampton sky --
a place, you said, where one
can almost forgive oneself.
Once you visited late to say
your wife, mistress and daughter
all hated you, that love wasn't fate
or salvation, but a cold back room
of paradise. Neither of us asked why,
after a lifetime of writing about sorrow,
you lived in a back room of your house.
You loved me like a son, you whispered
on my fortieth birthday, ready
to rush off if I looked displeased.
Our favorite game was guessing
how much truth someone could tolerate.
For P, you wrote on your last book,
the passionate pilgrim through this sickness
called the world. The truth is, I think,
you wanted the world to father you,
to heal the sickness of your soul.
I saw you, weeks before you died,
In the A & P, straining to read
a soup can in the hard flourescent haze.
I wanted to explain why I avoided you,
chose love, but you shrugged
and turned away when I tried
to introduce my wife. I didn't go
to your funeral, but late at night, I
bathe in the beautiful ashes of your words.
I think of you today as my wife hovers
like a mother swan and my sons fish
for hermit crabs scurrying sideways
across the surf. You, too, wanted to shed
your life, renew yourself. Still the waves
are jubilant, slightly off-key, the wind
whispers its few small truths to the earth,
and the migrant clouds stretch forlorn wings
all the way to the open door of paradise.