Words For A Friend

In memory of Harold Town

(Photograph by John Reeves)

On a sun-singing spring afternoon,
a day scented with gutsy colours
you’ve painted for decades or more,
a spring day, yes, but cold,
cold and mean enough for sidewalk ice,

the damp wind elbows through
your bushes outside
and I see you and hear you
panic in glances and words,
panic the way the newly helpless do:
you know you’ll be dead
before you are well again.

Still, we talk of painting, poems,
women, music, the farm,
and, as usual, everything else,
then we verbally piss on a critic or two,
and as I leave,
and before you close the door,
you say, “I love you, buddy,”
and your artist hands are ruined
from chemotherapy.

Now another day,
I bring you my poem
written for your birthday
and we sit to watch the trees
you planted greening,

greening into summer as you die.
and you say, “I wouldn’t
have worried as much,”
and we conclude together
that animals have souls
while some men don’t. But you are dead

and my heart speaks to your ashes,
scattered where we, grown kids,
rode your fire engine together,
scattered smaller than dust.
The sky today seems clouded with the sun
and part of me is dust with you
and part of me is born in my grief,
but the wound of your dying
hurts still too much
because time takes time.

Harold, you are dead but three weeks:
would you believe that men
have become even more lunatic?
All we love is in danger forever
and maybe what we need to save us
won’t show. Yet in spite of this world,
because of it, you painted what few,
save you, could imagine. I loved
your art and came to love you,
my friend, its maker.

Harold, on Bloor Street yesterday
I watched a young woman,
the kind we used to notice.
There was something unreachably crazy
in her waiting to happen
and her skin whispered flesh
like the lines you drew.
Then I watched your thousand toy horses
take over city hall at last
and I wished like hell I could phone you
and tell you all about it.

(from the book 'Beside the Hemlock Garden')