Elegy for John B—
The count begins at eight hundred.
You stood upon my December porch,
It seems but three years ago.
The sun was bright with morning;
Camellias white and crimson gleamed;
Upon our door lay a wreathe you wove.
In top hat, morning suit, tails,
You could have stepped from a page of Dickens
As you met each guest with a carol clear.
O angel tenor, how you loved the song!
But I cannot hear it.
Is it cold time which battens up my ear?
Or do I only listen for the ghost
Of my own Christmas, my past?
The count is now six hundred.
Two summers ago, you dwelled with us,
My three children and my gardens
Were your care—all thrived
Within your hands—it was a time
Of violets, of water and of glee.
My son remembers how together
You two worked the plants in that
Garden which is gone.
We spoke of holly, azaleas, jade,
Phlox, ferns—I recall the
Meal you made even for me.
But I was wary, and like some
Secret vampire, squinted for
Signs of blood.
They did not know.
The count is now four hundred.
I saw you that last time, only a year ago,
As you worked once more, the garden.
I watched you with hidden eyes, peeking
From behind eyelids of guilt
Upon your wizening frame, as the sweat
Sheened your skin, as you gleaned
In the afternoon.
I noticed: As you moved,
Your muscles moved too clearly;
You were like some northern god
Whose magic armor had been tricked away
By a scheme of Loki;
You stood naked on a planet I dared not reach,
Etched by alien fire.
How could we both be on this one earth?
The count is now two hundred.
In the evening gloom I look
Out to the lamp post, by the water-oak.
You dressed it in jasmine, which only
Now has bloomed, belated gift,
So sweet, the florets pressed to my face
Summon dreams of Arabian nights—antique perfumes—
I breathe for you.
O that I were a Prospero, and my Ariel art
Command the raging tempest of disease
To speed you to an isle as full of song and sweet,
Forever, as this moment that you grew for me.
But my futile numbers cannot awake:
You sleep in the coma god’s arms,
Protected with implacable grace.
The count is zero.
Moonbeams alone alight—
I hear you son, my brother, my love:
Voices requiem in the thickets of the night;
The funeral owl is your spirit’s flight;
Away it lofts, drifts, soars,
This earthen, leaden, clotted heart,
Which longs, O, which longs,
For my lost, my John of flowers,
My forlorn, my John of songs.
Author’s Note: This poem was written in 1995, on the day John died. He was 26 years old. John’s partner was a friend of my wife’s. John was a florist and had a beautiful tenor voice. We had known he had AIDs for over three years and had hired him to look after our kids and take care of our gardens, until he was no longer able to work. The count mentioned in the poem is the John’s T-cell count.
Ron Searls’s poetry has appeared in The Lyric Magazine and has been been distributed to friends and acquaintances in a private edition. A recently retired software engineer, his last project was as co-founder of Nanigans, Inc., an adtech startup. Before he retired, he remembered that he hadn’t graduated from MIT, re-enrolled, and finished with the class of 2015.
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