THOM GUNN

 

The J Car

 

 

Last year I used to ride the J CHURCH Line,

Climbing between small yards recessed with vine

Their ordered privacy, their plots of flowers

Like blameless lives we might imagine ours.

Most trees were cut back, but some brushed the car

Before it swung round to the street once more

On which I rolled out almost to the end,

To 29th Street, calling for my friend.

He'd be there at the door, smiling but gaunt,

To set out for the German restaurant.

There, since his sight was tattered now, I would

First read the menu out. He liked the food

In which a sourness and dark richness meet

For conflict without taste of a defeat,

As in the Sauerbraten. What he ate

I hoped would help him to put on some weight,

But though the crusted pancakes might attract

They did so more as concept than in fact,

And I'd eat his dessert before we both

Rose from the neat arrangement of the cloth,

Where the connection between life and food

Had briefly seemed so obvious if so crude.

Our conversation circumspectly cheerful,

We had sat here like children good but fearful

Who think if they behave everything might

Still against likelihood come out all right.

But it would not, and we could not stay here:

Finishing up the Optimator beer

I walked him home through the suburban cool

By dimming shape of church and Catholic school,

Only a few, white, teenagers about.

After the four blocks he would be tired out.

I'd leave him to the feverish sleep ahead,

Myself to ride through darkened yards instead

Back to my health. Of course I simplify.

Of course. It tears me still that he should die

As only an apprentice to his trade,

The ultimate engagements not yet made.

His gifts had been withdrawing one by one

Even before their usefulness was done:

This optic nerve would never be relit;

The other flickered, soon to be with it.

Unready, disappointed, unachieved,

He knew he would not write the much-conceived

Much-hoped-for work now, nor yet help create

A love he might in full reciprocate.