After our rendez-vous — this the last word he said,
Waving to me as the train pulled away from the station.
And so it seemed: harmless. Till evening brought
The first prick of fever, which soon trellised my veins;
At 2 AM came that knock on the city gates,
Little pig, little pig, let me come in....
Ha! ever a bold and warlike people, we didn’ t.
Days of siege. We threw corpses dead of plague
From the tops of parapets to frighten it away:
But what was it? That vatic voice was not like his at all,
and by its speech one could tell it somehow knew us well.
The mystery deepened. A strange billowing cloud
Made my people short of breath, I heard them wheezing.
The end seemed near. What could this ailment be?
Hunting out clues, I went over the roses and snows
Of his departed face like a treasure map, over
His words hanging in air like the scrolls of Alexandria.
Had I not been consensual, a free agent,
Gay, single as any singing lark, who
Chooses to unlock, to whom? Well?
One night, finally, I climbed our tallest tower, lay
In the open on its roof and had a brilliant dream.
I saw my body nestled between angels
Like the body of the prophet Jesus, I saw it
Leaking from a finger’ s tip like a slit ragdoll.
And then I saw: this feathery, amorphous creature
Black as mildew in the bath, soft as bread mold,
Chewing on my bloodpuddings in the corner.
And then I knew! That morning, I went out by the porter’ s door
Pressing one finger to judicious lips like Oedipus.
Your name, I said, I have it now: Despair —
Shrieking, it vanished with brimstone and flames.
So I etched Harmless in that ground of merds and moss
And to this day, my people listen to strangers crying wares
With an intelligent ear, remembering our grave old danger.