Listening by Martha Friedberg (1985)
Last night the lectern lurched like a ship
with you at the prow rushing the rescue orders.
But the audience, hooded and cold
in the lifeboats fussed at the sticky sea:
as if they had never tasted its salts.
Water streamed in the boats
and sprayed our skins with hymns
foamy and warm. Some of us shuddered
and slipped behind and didn’t bother to row.
I know. I sat next to the dean
and his wife. He wound his watch.
He re-set it and wound it again.
Some fished with their famished hands
for your lines too slippery to catch.
And some trolled for their lost identities.
I leaned from the bow and stole
what I could. But the waves flew higher
and wilder till the entire sea of yourself
heaved up the sea lentils, sargasso,
and starfish of your earliest poems.
When you had calmed the swell
that drenched us, your last lines
thrashing the water like a tired rescuer’s;
it was midnight, and spring.
And I leapt home, up the steps
three at a time, to my desk,
my typewriter, my only life.