Barbara Ungar – Dear Bill

Isn’t it great
not being dead yet
you’d say and giggle.

Is it great being dead too?
Lucky, Whitman calls it.

When you were my age
you’d been dead five years.
Unthinkable.
                 You are always
ahead, father-brother, with the sad
damage of all the men I love:
It’s never not Mom.

Kill the A+ student, don’t
get a PhD. Don’t keep writing
the same book, start another.

I ignored your advice

yet you remain the teacher
I try to be—so lightly erudite,
wit your scalpel—no one ever
left your class crying.

You never know who in a class
is going to write a great poem

you said and meant it.

Men are worms. Really.
You drank too much
lively with the ladies
dirt beneath your nails
and bags under your eyes.

The only difference between being
moderately well-read and
really well-read
is insomnia.

               You limped
like me, through marriages,
divorces, single-parenthood.

You called what you did
                                Stand-up
tragedy
         
the job
schlepping books to readings
as glamorous as that of
a traveling feed salesman.

I’m always late with thank yous,
this one, decades.
                           In every real poem
                           someone’s heart is breaking.

I missed
your festschrift.You don’t care.
You are out of time.


From Save Our Ship, Ashland Poetry Press, 2019