Monday, March 17, 2014

Overheard, sort of

Last week, as I drove home from work listening to NPR, I heard a man start to recite a poem that resonated with me. This poem belongs to Lloyd Schwartz and is titled "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like a Death"

In today's paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment

made me ache to call you — the only person I know
who'd still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-

absorption. We'd laugh (at what haven't we laughed?), then
not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can't call,

because I don't know what became of you.
— After sixty years, with no explanation, you're suddenly

not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid
you might be dead. But you're not dead.

You've left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted
number but insists on "respecting your privacy." I located

your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that
you're alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters.

What's happened? Are you in trouble? Something
you've done? Something I've done?

We used to tell each other everything: our automatic
reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes,

and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started
singing each other "Happy Birthday" every birthday?

(Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.)
How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude — the easy

unthinking kindnesses of long friendship.
This mysterious silence isn't kind. It keeps me

up at night, bewildered, at some "stage "of grief.
Would your actual death be easier to bear?

I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
comedy of errors. "When one's friends hate each other,"

Pound wrote near the end of his life, "how can there be
peace in the world?" We loved each other. Why why why

am I dead to you?
Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less

I understand this world,
and the people in it.

My car was in the driveway before the Schwartz stopped reading, so I sat there, mesmerized. I cannot have any idea how this man feels, but it reminded me so strongly of a friend I had in college, and after college, with whom I'd done a variety of things. She came to my wedding, she stayed with us for New Year's, and took a couple small trips with us, too. Kathy. You know precisely where I live, but for the past twenty years or so, I have no idea where you are.

The last letter I had from you informed me that you were going to live with an aunt in Florida, and that you'd write when you got settled some place. You never did. Since then, I've googled and searched. I sent holiday cards to your old address, hoping they'd be rerouted. I got absolutely no response--nothing ever came back. 

Finally, very recently, your name did come up on a search, and I could tell that it was definitely you--and I'm relieved that you are in fact in Florida, and you are alive. Like Schwartz, though, I can't help but think--was it something I did? 

How are you? What's been going on?


beach lad said...

how true that the older you get the less you realise you know.

Jocelyn said...

I absolutely adore that poem. I don't exactly have that situation in my life, but just the other night, I was trying to track down my best friend from senior year of HS, wondering how we'd fallen away from each other, longing to know the shape of her current life.

TLP said...

I know you've wondered and wondered about her. But. She. Was. Always. Different.

actonbell said...

beach lad, that is the truth!
Jocelyn, I agree, it's a great poem

Mom-her family was scary-strange, but she really wasn't--she was just scarred.