Elegy Beginning With Half a Line From Ben Johnson

By Maxine Kumin

Dry, bald, and sere
my old college roommate dead of cancer
keeps walking into my midnights where

we’re heading north again from White River
two girls thumbing by the highway never
molested not even propositioned by delivery—

men who stop to ask us where the hell we’re going
—to her parents’ place—and next we’re galloping
her mother’s horses one hot yellow afternoon

until their flanks lather and their nostrils flare
we swim them right into the cobblestoned river
never mind soaking the expensive British leather

cool now drinking spiked punch at the college Jolly—Ups
we’re proud of getting seasoned making out among the wraps
on someone’s Ash Street bed the sun’s eclipse

through smoked glass smoking Parliaments and pot
we are forming our selves—what tamed us? not
the KGB the CIA the FBI but time that cat

burglar it’s dawn I curse your cunning stalker cancer
four five six chemos carry off your zest your hair
radiation strips your frame never mind you swear

even morphined that you’ll beat him all hollow
and then you swim your sweaty horse up to Valhalla.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/08/elegy-beginning-with-half-a-line-from-ben-johnson/308569/