Sleep Gently, Now
for Alan Boden, d. July, 1996.
"Sleep gently, now," I still hear you say,
halfway through our German class, as you lean back,
exhausted from moonlighting at the Legion,
baring your teeth as you complain
of drunks and fools and people who dance in conga lines.
You seldom sleep.
We watch your long arms stretch high above your head,
and slowly bend back down. Your long brown fingers interlace
and cradle your fierce head. You lean back, you close your eyes,
you stretch your legs beneath your desk,
and say whatever comes to mind.
We listen more intently than ever to permutations of der, die, und das
through Nominative, Accusative, Dative, and Genitive.
We will pay dearly for these times: a full three years of catching up.
But now, my German withered to remnants of "Nimm' die Kreide nieder" and
"ich klättert auf dem Berg," this other, wasted time still clings to me,
impossible to forget.
Without reference to cars or sports, or making us somehow less than you,
you were the essence of masculinity, strong and fierce and self-controlled
and filled with enormous passion.
We were all in awe of you, the girls all half in love with you,
and more than a little afraid. Beneath your calm, we felt your burning gaze,
haunting and magnificent as a cobra.
At all attempts to make you a romantic, Melancholy Prince
you laughed, devastatingly loud and long.
You played fate's fool, from time to time,
always scheming the perfect escape.
One summer, it was splitting cedar shakes, by hand,
with your own, new adze -- you even quit teaching, for a time.
You returned when fashions changed, but you were
always on the brink of walking out, this time, forever.
It made you unpolitic and brave, risking enemies at every turn
with your witty, caustic tongue.
And once, away from class, too tired to think better of it,
you confided that you thought, sometimes, of pale young flesh --
we shuddered when we heard of it, but your eyes, hooded and remote,
guarded against all further indiscretion.
All this, for me, was the least of it.
From you, I learned the heart of things I found words for only later --
like existential loneliness and despair -- and things with only long,
philosophic German names.
Through your dark-lidded half-closed eyes, I saw the world transformed
into an unfathomable and frightening place --
somewhere awesome, vivid, and bleak.
And when I heard you speak, your vision was
so familiar, I lost all shame of my own tormented nights
in terror of my destiny.
Your deep, unshaken faith
in your essential loneliness proved
that I was not alone.
Your sudden end was shockingly in character,
like the punchline of some outrageous, great black joke
only you could explain.
What windmill were you slaying
when you lost your footing on that roof
and took your fatal fall?
"Sleep gently, now," I hear you laugh,
a voice as fierce and kind as Death.
© 1996, Carin Perron