I met the master before he died.
his best work behind him, his eyes
colorless and squinting as if they’d
already seen too much. “Nothing changes,”
he shouted at whatever mystery
was listening. The looking back to me,
“At least, none of the important stuff.”
His hands were spotted and his face
a waning shade. Whatever breeze
was in the room was wheezing.
“Go ahead and read me something,”
and so I did. He listened and he snored,
then insisted that I read a couple more.

Afterward we shuffled through the garden
and the fruit trees. We listened to magpies
as the sun burnt down. He mentioned
“wise, sweet Horace,” as if he’d seen him
yesterday; he cleared his throat of smoke
and sang a little Roethke. On the porch
his wife brought coolies and Glenlivet.
I fumbled with my notebook and thanked him
one more time. “You won’t strike gold
chasing down old men like me,” he said.
“There’s hope for you, but keep it short.
God’s patience isn’t what it used to be.”

(first published in New Letters)