Poem | Letter to Belmont

i.m. Richard Wilbur

 

Master, I reread Monsour’s “Burrowing Bees”
and learned today you’re in a nursing home
far from the Berkshire woods you used to roam.
I hope you have a view of turning trees.

Mr. Warren directed me to you,
“The best we’ve got,” thirty-nine years ago,
half of a lifetime as the red leaves blow.
Your letters told just what I had to do:

“Charge your language,” “accurate observation,”
“precise expression” equal to each task.
I hunt today, sipping my whiskey flask.
None of your juniors has achieved your station,

Mr. Parnassus being the name I gave
Mount Wilbur, scrambling up your lower slopes,
wild with ambition and frustrated hopes,
mastery seeming distant as the grave.

For now your large family is close by,
so many visitors, much merriment.
Long may the silkworm weave your cerement,
blue as the sea, Lord, make the Belmont sky.

Today I quarter our Sheyenne River banks,
number my debts, and now I pray for you,
after four decades more I cannot do
but write in my red head this note of thanks.

Postscript:

Richard, the word just reached me very late
you have passed on to claim your rich reward
for ten decades of service to our Lord.
I trust Charlotte was waiting at the Gate.

Published in the November 10, 2017 issue: 
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Timothy Murphy, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, died on June 30 at his home in Fargo, North Dakota. His books include Very Far North (2002), Mortal Stakes and Faint Thunder (2011), and Devotions (2017). Requiescat in pace.

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