On Rhode Island Avenue

 
The boyhood days come back again:

Over the fence, and run away;

Because the shattered window-pane

Had tinkled in the empty house,

Where we, exploring, hoped to play.

 

A moment, and that ghost-filled world

Was left behind, and we raced out

On drug-store streets, where movies whirled

Us far away from Washington,

Then gave us life to talk about.

 

Those tokens for the trolley-cars;

Those boy’s books read spread out among

Lead soldiers, stamps, and Hershey bars;

And hide and seek; and jumping on

The backs of trucks; and door-bells rung.

 

Oh, I can see the lights come up,

While we stay wrestling on the grass,

Before I go to share your supper;

And now I listen while you play

Chopin on Sunday after Mass.

 

Your house was marble, mirrors, grand,

Where you spoke French when bidden to.

Ambassadors would throng there, and

Their cards fill up the Chinese bowl;

Yet that meant nothing real to you.

 

The grandeur which you moved in might

Have made you petty, cold, and hard -

The spoiled boy who was always right.

But you preferred to be the sort

To vault the fence of your back yard.

 

You were the dark-eyed, dark-haired friend

I loved to be with: always fun.

In all the days I used to spend

With you, I never once had cause

For grievance when a day was done.

 

So when I think of how we swam

Those afternoons away, and how,

Out at Glen Echo, you would slam

Your dodgem gaily round the floor,

It makes me feel a sadness now.

 

For you have had your life to bear:

Not that I mean the grandeur gone:

You were too sensible to care

Too much for that; but the hard weight

Of illness, weighing down like stone.

 

When we were boys, we promised each

Other we would return from death,

Whoever was the first to reach

That paradise, and say just what

Games could be like played out of breath.

 

Will it be you, whose good times came,

After some spring days, to an end?

Or I, who have tried these years to tame

Words and feelings into order?

Which ghost will smile at which boyhood friend?

 

Quien sabe? As you might have said

When we were older and drank beer

Together - life still there ahead.

Who knows? But in the meantime, Paul,

Only these memories bring you near.