—for Philip Larkin
I work all day, and come home at night—
Living in this soundless old dark house
With its curtain-edges and old-fashioned
Stained-glass windows catching the light
Seeing what I’ve always seen: parents
And grandparent’s death, and mine next.
A whole day nearer now, making thought
Impossible, how and where and when I
Shall myself die. This arid interrogation,
The dread of dying, and being dead,
Coming daily to grab and horrify me.
My mind grows blank, deep in remorse—
For the things not done, the love not given,
Time torn up unused—wretchedly because
A closeted life lasts only so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, then it’s over;
But in the total emptiness toward the end,
The knowing extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always, it’s here & now,
Not anywhere else, and soon; nothing’s more
Terrible, nothing’s more true than the Now.
This is a special way of being afraid—
No bridge game dispels it, religion useless,
One’s life a moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die, even tho
We never really lived, fearing a thing we’ve
Never felt, here in this closet where there’s
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think
With, nothing to love or link with, for this is
The anesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of thought—
An avoided unfocused fear, a big chill that
Freezes each impulse down to indecision.
Most affairs don’t ever happen: this one will,
And realizing it no longer surprises one, when
We’re caught without a lover or someone to
Give us courage even if they’re no good;
It means not scaring others, being brave on
Your own, edging toward the grave, death no
Different than being a Librarian all these years.
Slowly light weakens, and the house dims—
Closets are plainly not just for one’s wardrobe.
What we know, what we don’t know, what
We can’t escape, and yet have to accept even
Though we can’t accept it. One day I’ll have
To go, regardless of the attic, closets, and my
So-called unlived life. The telephone crouches
Getting ready to ring with nobody to answer, this
Old house cold in the winter with the dead elms
Reaching their branches and fingers into the sky.
Here in this closeted little college town that I
Never escaped from, nor even tried, coasting
From year to year there in the stacks, hiding
In the William Allen White Library where work
Was to be done, an intricate world full of
Books white as clay, with no sun, just words
Like postmen and doctors coming and going
From house to house with nobody there.