I met today, amidst the snow, a man I’ve known awhile,
Who stood in ragged clothes, while I was bundled head to feet.
A poet was this man, and when I asked him then, discreetly,
Why he did not dress like me, he answered, with a smile,
“I dress the same, no matter what the season. There are trees
That clothe themselves throughout the year – yet are, in winter, bare.
But just as there are men like me, who, whistling, blizzards dare,
So there are evergreens, like pines, that winter cannot freeze.”
But I had grown impatient. So I cleared my throat and said,
“I’ve known you now for many years, and so I’ll speak my mind.
‘To those who best apply themselves, to them is Fortune kind.’
If only you were working, you’d be better clothed and fed.”
The poet, he was silent for a moment. Then he turned
Towards me and he smiled again, although I knew I’d wounded.
“There’s work and there is work,” he said, “and just with that, I’d end it.
But I have also known you long. Our friendship, each has earned.
“And so, I’ll speak now seriously, no longer just in jest.
I feel I should explain myself, at least perhaps to you.
For I have lived for long – and so, with years remaining few,
I should not leave, misunderstood by those who knew me best.
“I’ve lived a life of poverty, as others often said,
And yet not lacked for anything, except what can’t be bought.
By most of the Enticements, I have never yet been caught,
Except the Muse of poetry, to whom I’ve long been wed.
“So when I’m dead, if burial of ashes then is fit,
Upon the tombstone, you can write, ‘He wrote his fill of verses,
And for this crime, received in time his fill of all our curses,
But never seemed to mind – or ever made an end of it.’
“And if my writings then are burned – or verses thrown in trash,
Remember then, that though I worked as hard as any other,
I never did, throughout my life, cause much by way of bother,
And neither did my labors or my verses garner cash.
“So if I’m judged by standards that are mercenary or
Derived from views that value only what is deemed ‘productive’,
Then surely I will be condemned. For I was neither active
In such pursuits – nor think that these are all we’re living for.
“But if I still have one complaint, it then is surely this –
So many ways there are to live awhile and then to die,
And yet we spend our lives ensnared by every dressed-up lie,
While leaving naked truth aside – and so, our chance of bliss.”
I’d listened to his verses, in his singsong nasal mumble,
And when he stopped, I saw that he was shivering from cold.
And if I were a braver man, or harsher, then I'd scold
This poet for his foolishness – that came out in a jumble.
But being who I am, I only told him, “I have listened.
Perhaps you ought to hurry now, to where you can be warm.
It’s freezing – and I fear that, in these clothes, you’ll come to harm.”
He turned to leave. And at his chin, I saw a drop that glistened.
2013 January 4th, Sat. (stanzas 2-5 added Sun., early morning) Bensonhurst, Brooklyn