“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

— Søren Kierkegaard, Life


You were a boy 
just out of college. 
Being your father’s son,
it seemed you’d have potential. 
But I saw you didn’t care. 
You’d never add up.

You came to work 
as a clerk. Little 
work we got from you,
one so terrified 
by technicalities.

I took you to the deed room,
that basic place of a lawyer’s days,
and you said you’d rather 
investigate people.

How would you eat
all those poems you were writing? 
How would you survive
the storms to fall upon you,
you so unlearned
in all but fancy?

You did show skill
at the Xerox machine,
at running off piles
of poems you wrote for the non-pay poem
publications. That 
while we had briefs
due; depositions.

You could have been learning 
your way through the labyrinth 
of law on which stands life. 
Therein you would have found 
the stuff of epics, new language. 
You chose instead to face
the Minotaur unarmed.
Easy talk when you don’t
know what you’re saying.

Yes, you could also answer the phone.

But most of all, you were your father’s son,
and he, the senior partner,
said nothing of your stagnation,
seemed ready to wait
for you to recover from
whatever had happened
to you in college.

When you left, the xerox
bills left with you.
I said that’s that,
he’s off into a world
that will eat him alive.
But I knew I could be wrong.

At your brother’s wedding
we had stood half drunk 
parrying about some
political line much
harped on in that day. 
Fifteen or twenty steps 
into the argumentations,
I saw you could talk from 
two sides of a table;
that though I did not care 
for what you had to say, 
you were two sided like
a lawyer must be.

I had seen something new,
another form within
the shambling poet boy 
who regained his sullen, 
cyclopsean posture,
the usual dullness
that Monday at the office. 

At my death, you were
not on my mind.
But now you come,
six years later,
to sit at my desk,
in my old chair,
and know the slant
of light off law
from books you bring down 
from shelves I helped pay for.

Knowing what you must know 
as a poet of that place
from which I speak,
you know that costs
are not now my concern,
nor contributions
to aid you now.

Still, I will offer
what I can, not having 
more to offer than my 
memory to speak for 
your encouragement; 
to see that I now see 
one should expect
the unexpected.