‘Old Friends’ and other poems by Winston Derden
By: Winston Derden
She told him he would end alone,
an old man with his books.
He wrote that in a poem
I read myself into
with a grain of satisfaction,
a forethought of acquiescence
into the comfort of the familiar
or belated recognition of some fetching text,
a new friend in old age
to assuage an idle hour
or delay obliged camaraderie
at some rest home convocation
with remnants of people
I’d spent a life avoiding.
Not to say all clever folks appear in print
or every writer’s clever,
though I’ve found percentages
skew in authors’ favor,
enticing me to abide with friends
so often proven welcome
and abjure conviviality for
a comfortable chair and well-lit text (new or old),
the feast of reason,
and the flow of soul.
— From Alexander Pope, Imitations of Horace, II.1
Prospect from Washington Avenue Bridge
Needle on the compass of sorrow,
worn-out misery, falling down
that last pinnacle of
talent as insanity briefly leashed.
Death is peace.
Death is release
from creative exhaustion, alcohol rage,
the dead father’s bullet-hole chest
in uncontrollable dreams,
the mother-voice endlessly
impenetrable against prosodic advance,
Poetry publication, a professor’s chair:
all incomprehensible to
an Oklahoma raising.
But license enough for emergency room you —
beast-bearded, sodden, bloviating —
to caterwaul Bessie Smith blues
while your heart calliope’d dirges.
The final journal betrayed rehearsal
of mounting the rail along the bridge,
but not the right hand rising,
perhaps for balance, perhaps a wave
to students in a windowed walkway,
wide-eyed watching the bounce and roll,
that last-breathed song.
Sassoon, Owen, and Jarrell are gone,
their niche in history shunted along
by fused neutrons, to make room for
generations of reporters to deplore
invasion, oppression, insurrection,
death on a smaller scale, that still
can’t evade heart-wreck implications:
a foundling in the surf soon replaced by
a child with a dusty, bloodied face.
Poster boys for casual demise
captured by cameras, disseminated worldwide
layer callouses on eyes of the unafflicted,
conscience occluded to images intruding
on comfort and detachment,
finding release in distractions where
no poets are required to memorialize
dismemberment of the life-like
humans find so endlessly appealing,
handheld screens reaffirming, history abjures
no innocent blood. It is a vampire.
The outlet mall of intellect
stands well stocked
with remnants of outmoded –isms.
The dominant paradigm
extends fashion sense
beyond aesthetics to mentation,
switching swatches as exploration,
an appetite for deconstruction,
pastiche, and bricolage,
reweaving recycled threads to knit
fresh incarnations of unraveled texts
with filaments of explication,
fomenting another punctilious clash
to elevate academia’s exegetical panache.
Age-old insignia, blood-colored third eye
of inner seeing;
love in intellect for bride and groom,
identified, desired, taken.
Nowadays fashionably aligned between tapered eyebrows
carefully color coordinated — designer
decal, beaded, spangled, felt or metal,
an accessory soon faded of significance,
at the end of day discarded.
A dot of black or red (not read),
inscribed on smooth-cut edges of white,
neatly centered between end boards,
the sign of commercial rejection,
bindi of the remaindered.
Open to me, my love,
my guilty pleasure.