I called you after you died to hear again your ducky voice
on the answering machine.
For weeks you continued:
“This is Will at Bathrooms Restored, please leave a message
after the beep.”
But I never did. What was there to say?
Even before – what was there to say? You used to call
first thing in the morning, “Hey Richard, it’s Will,”
and I’d say, “Hey Will, what’s up?” We’d chew the bull, maybe
plan to meet that evening. “Will, there’s a concert at Carnegie,
I can get free tickets.”
And you would trudge over
wasted after a day of laying tiles,
then nod off during the Beethoven.
Who else could sleep through the “Ode to Joy”?
Later we’d go to an all-night cafe and you would yatter
about your nonexistent love life, and I would tell you mine.
Guy talk, unrepeatable mostly.
And then, go figure,
you were dying,
and I sat there with the gaunt shell of you
too stunned to speak, and you too sick to speak
(although we both knew that there was nothing left to say).
I could only hold you, but that didn’t feel right either:
two awkward and dry-eyed male animals clutching.
Give me a break!
Later, of course, the tears did come,
for me at least, when you moved upstate. I’m guessing
that you had already gone beyond the veil
where tears make sense.
On my last visit, your eyes, not exactly vacant,
but impenetrable wells, so purged of wanting
and of needing that they were no longer entirely human.
Was this the enlightenment that we both pursued to India
and beyond? Or maybe just pain, which also clears the deck
Or death. That will do it too. I’d like to ask.
But it has been years since your answering machine
stopped answering. And talk was never your thing,
Will, nor mine, when I was with you.
We understood each other without it
in those days before male bonding,
when no one said the word “love,” or needed to.
Richard Schiffman, a Manhattanite, is the author of What the Dust Doesn’t Know, a collection of poems published by Salmon Poetry in February 2017.