FOR MICHAEL DENNIS BROWNE,
28 May 2010
by James Naiden
It’s been long since we first met, hasn’t it—in Iowa City,
The entrance to Whetstone’s Drugstore—August,
Nineteen sixty-six, a hot day. You were cheerful
As you always were, in those pre-laptop decades.
Faces with names come up: Dori Katz, one of your friends
Sitting with you and me in Kenney’s Bar on a spring afternoon.
We spoke French and laughed together in light aplomb.
You were rapturously single, publishing a bit here and there,
Joyous poems, far from war, decrepitude not considered—
That obnoxious thing lighting on the backs of others.
I don’t remember you with any one woman then.
Poetry was your mate, the bright promise of years to come
No one knew or cared—of course, many we knew
Have gone, the years collecting their prize of finality.
I remember Dori—short, dark-haired, a fierce glare
With a twinkle of sardonic humor—she was alert,
From the East perhaps—pert, someone said.
A perceptive friend, you added. Now she fades from view.
“A poet can survive anything but a misprint,”
You once observed in the student union cafeteria,
The Iowa River in beauteous view, down the green hill.
There were other faces—Marvin Bell, George Starbuck.
In Minneapolis later, Chester Anderson, Michael Berryhill.
When you asked Carolyn Kizer something about language
At a reading she gave in ‘seventy-three, she made
A stiff remark about male writers asking questions.
“Forget it,” you muttered in disgust. Sitting beside you,
Chet observed clinically but said nothing with a frown.
I hate thinking about people having to retire. Why should they?
“I have these skills which just keep getting better with time,”
A widow said recently. “I don’t want to give that up yet.”
I wonder if you feel the same, Michael. Why should one quit
What one does well—unless to accommodate the next generation
Moving up for advancement? Let them wait, I’ve always thought.
Once it’s done, it’s over, of course.
A new poet comes, sits down.
Copyright © 2011 by James Naiden.