A mistake

Patrick Donnelly

Linda said, “You live ten minutes away,

why wouldn’t you want

to visit Jack Gilbert, get to know him?

Take him some unhealthy food,

whatever he likes. That’s how

I came to know Brodsky, Milosz, Stern.”

I wasn’t born to fuck the stars, I didn’t say,

or eat nothing but lentils for years in a Greek hut —

(also, I thought, I doubt

if he is interested in visits from men.)

“Or, call and ask if he’d like to go

to the Miss Florence Diner for New England boiled dinner.”

So, a mistake, I did call, said I was

a poet friend of Linda’s.

There arose a long silence, followed by

“I don’t. Know what. To say.”

But Linda’s next visit we tried again, met at Jack’s

over Henry and Noele’s garage.

Old-man room, yellow underwear

washed in the sink and drying and his mind

unsteady, but full of letters

I would have paid to read.

She and I smoked too much, is what I remember,

and he questioned me as to whether I loved

differently because I loved men, which I don’t know

how he knew. I said I thought not,

and thought a little less of him, which is a thing

I’d been afraid of. A copy of my first book

given him minutes ago he then signed

with his own name, precarious,

and handed back to me.

This awkwardness, which I had tried so hard to avoid,

how to finesse it now? By drawing an arrow

from my signed name to his, adding the formula

“an honor to spend a morning with,” and the date,

then sliding the book back to him.

After that I visited

only his books. But knowing always he was

just across the river.

                                  And offered

to Linda as the reason the story Kevin had told

about Jack’s rebuke, ending their long friendship,

“This relationship is over,” his brutal side.

Then she had to move him to California,

and from a bad place there

to a better where he was visited at least weekly.

My copies of his books now

between Frost and Ginsberg.

The great fires.

But where, after all that,

is his copy of my book, my first,

which I signed and he signed?

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