Allen Grossman Pat's Poem Aleph

Semper dum vivam tui meminero – Erasmus


This is a poem for my old nurse Pat –
Who had something wrong with her heart.

                                                        Pat had
An old mother with a tongue like a cow,
With whom I slept.
And she had a father, out of sight, named John
Who died slowly in a back bedroom
Like an abandoned wagon rotting in
A low wet pasture.

                          Pat had a boyfriend
Whose best song was, “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”
And a brother, Vince, who went to the war
Leaving a chained hound in the barn that howled
Four years straight night and day.

Most things Pat taught me were not true. What she
Did have a knack for,
Like skipping stones far out on the Lagoon,
I never could pick up.  I don.t know
What became of her . . .

                                    Pat, failed nurse
With a too small heart, with all-consuming
Shadowy love I loved whatever
Behind that constant uniform of official
Imposture your freckled body was.

                                                  First teacher,
Out in Denver or wherever marriage
Or the grave has swarmed over your hiding,
I’ll tell the world that I remember
Every nuance of your plain brown hair
In Summer light.

                        Because of you I cannot
Tie good knots.
Because of you, I weep at marching bands
Because of you, I cannot depart
From any shallow friend, tell truth, keep measure
Or make an end . . .

                             So I talk on to you –
And on and on – all through the sleepless
Afternoon, as a child might to a stain
Upon a shade.
When will you come to wake me, Pat.  Oh, when?
The long room darkens, and your poem’s made.

         .      .      .      .      .

Out of the disturbed house, always below,
Robed as in summer curtains, sheer and white –
The dog’s howl stopped, the confounded knot tight –
Comes up the stair dark, silence, and the years.
Semper dum vivam tui meminero.
All my life long I will remember you.