I found your first book today
in a second hand store at the Harrisburg Station.
Dingy and age-tanned,
it retained its dustcover,
with a photo of you at 22,
wearing a threadbare corduroy coat
I’m sure is still in your closet,
and what might pass for a smile.
It’s a rare first print from ’69.
You kept to your poetry
like you kept to the old neighborhood,
both mired in bottomless poverty—
an endless scraping by.
Yet, just last year, The Times called you
the Bashful Bard of Brooklyn.
We will lay you out tomorrow
in a sandy plot
in one of those many cemeteries
that dot the flat, emptiness of the mid-island plains.
Bury you next to Mary
your common-law wife of fifty three years
and your only treasure.
I never told you what I felt
when I first held a copy of your book.
I was outside my tent,
less than a mile from the wreckage of Ben Tre.
The package had been waiting for me
while we took that city down.
Not even the rats and the roaches
could have survived our fury.
“That should be me,” I thought,
and tossed that splendid book
in the bin labeled burn.