Isn’t it great
not being dead yet,

you’d say, and giggle.

Is it great being dead, too?
Lucky, Whitman calls it.

When you were my age,
you’d been dead for five years.
                       You are always
ahead, father-brother, with the sad
damage of all the men I love:
It’s never not Mom.

I ignored your advice
(Kill the A+ student; don’t
get a PhD; don’t keep writing
the same book, start another)

still you remain the teacher
I try to be—so lightly erudite,
wit your scalpel—no one ever
left your class crying.

You never know who in a class
is going to write a great poem,

you said, and meant it.

Men are worms. Really.
You drank too much,
were lively with the ladies,
had dirt beneath your nails
& bags under your eyes.

The only difference between being
moderately well-read and really well-read
is insomnia.

                       In chronic pain
from basketball days, you limped,
like me, through marriages,
divorces, single-parenthood.

You called what you did

                       the poet’s job
schlepping books to readings
as glamorous as that of
a travelling feed salesman.

I’m always late with thank yous,
this one, decades.
                                    In every real poem,
                                    someone’s heart is breaking.
I missed
your festschrift. You don’t care.
You are out of time.

    (Say everything you have to say
    on a subject, then stop.)

Listen to this poem:

Dear Bill,

Photo used under CC.

Poem read by Barbara Ungar and recorded by Leanne Ungar.