Henry Reed

They told him, with reassurance: ‘You must turn over a new leaf.’
Ever submissive and grateful, he did so and then said: ‘Look!
This brings me to the last page in the book.
And the pages have been so thin I can clearly see
The earlier words that a week ago were me.’
He explains this simple fact. And they agree.
‘Then tear the whole sheet out. Why not?’ They do not see
That this would only show, naked, the pages before
Which he would most wish to efface,
To forget even more
Than this latest, dreadful page, as it seemed to him, of disgrace.

Then ‘Buy a completely new book then,’ they said, ‘and burn the old.’
‘Yes, that’s an idea,’ he said. And as they watched the flames
Slowly and gladly consume the crowded sheets
They were cheerful at least. It even relieved the cold
That had long crept in from the pitiful, pitiless streets.

‘And buy it at once. Start now,’ encouraging they said.
‘I will,’ he said, and moved to the window, looked out.
They warmed their hands at the blaze,
Glad he would start again, glad of their wisdom.
‘Get a new book, and start at once,’ they had said,
‘And you will have, as you once did, happy days.’
He said, ‘It is Sunday. And snowing like hell. And the shops are shut.’
They smiled indulgently and beckoned him to the fire. He returned and sat down to rest.
‘There is always Monday,’ they said. ‘Yes, and Tuesday and Wednesday’, he added,
‘Though Thursday is half-day closing,’ he murmured, sighing
And a shiver ran over the room as some of them guessed
The last page had been the last and on Friday
Or possibly Saturday he would be dying.