Peter Porter b. Brisbane 1929, d. London 2010
The sky is silent. All the planes must keep
Clear of the fine volcanic ash that drifts
Eastward from Iceland like a bad idea.
In your apartment building without lifts,
Not well myself, I find it a bit steep
To climb so many stairs but know I must
If I would see you still alive, still here.
The word is out from those you love and trust —
Time is so short that from your clever pen
No line of verse might ever flow again.
Your poems were the condensation trails
Of a bright mind's steady rush of soaring power,
Which still you show. Though plainly you are weak
In body, you can still talk by the hour.
Indeed we talk for two, but my will fails
Before the task of wishing you goodbye.
There's all our usual stuff of which to speak:
Pictures and poems, things that never die,
And then there's history, which in the end
No one survives, not even your best friend.
No one like you to talk about Mozart
Bad-mouthing Haydn: how the older man
Forgave the coming boy. No one like you
To bring it all alive, the mortal span
Of humans who create immortal art:
Your favourite theme. I ought to tell you now
That I will miss you. But I miss my cue,
Unless it's tact, not funk, that tells me how
To look convinced this visit need not be
The last at which you're here to welcome me.
If I am mealy-mouthed, though, you are not.
You say you hate to eat because it feeds
The crab that's killing you. I could well ask,
If only to find out what fear it breeds,
Whether you dread your death now that it's got
A grip the morphine can't shake. That would be
For me, however. Better to wear my mask
Of good cheer and insist Posterity
Cherishes you already while you live,
And there will be more time, and more to give.
Ten weeks? Ten poems? Scarcely, it transpires,
Ten days. The planes can fly again. The phones
That never stopped are saying you are gone.
We try to give thanks that you made old bones,
But still I see the beach at Troy, the fires
For fallen heroes. This is an event
Proving for all the great work that lives on
A great life dies, and leaves an empty tent —
An aching void to measure our time by
As overwhelming as a silent sky.
London May 2010
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