The famous poet’s mistress, forty years ago,
Now heard five times a week on radio
Acting an ageing upper-class virago.

‘The deadbeats of the Caves de France, the suicidal’,
The substance of a novelist’s rapt recall,
One who escaped the death from alcohol.

The ravaged visage of a copywriter
Who was an intimate of him and her,
Encountered at the funeral of another.

And at memorial services the pews
Filling with this and that long-unseen face,
This one thought dead, that one no longer news.

And, rooting among boxes in the attic,
Letters another wrote, witty, ecstatic,
Who dwindled down to paperback-roundup critic.

And in the obit, columns an old queen
Wheeled on weekly recalling the has-been
Who’ve died in Tokyo, Paris, Golders Green.

These are the days of death, memento mori:
‘I knew him as an undergraduate, before he ...’
Turned into nothingness, the old old story.

These are the daily shades, the presences
Among the shadows, pricking the five senses
As they reveal themselves as absences.

These are the scourers, enemies of promise,
Rubbing out vanity and fame like pumice,
Asking to see the evidence like Thomas.

The famous poet’s mistress, forty years ago,
And boxes crammed above, pews full below.
These are the things we hear, and see, and know.

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