Music to Remember

 
Meeting again someone you knew

A long time ago

Ruffles the past and makes you know

How he must feel at meeting you.

 

That youth, laughing, with a fortune of years

To fling away

On anything,

No matter what,

On anyone,

No matter who;

On the look out for fun;

Who would play,

Heedless, and always won;

Casual at cheers;

Arm in arm with success;

The favorite of his fellows, and

The one with every gift -

Now reappears,

Moving so heavily from the lift,

And for a moment, dazed

By all this foreign light

That entered with you from the street,

Stands there

At a loss:

Blanched hair,

A worn and questioning face,

Only the shadows of his good looks left.

 

Amazed,

You tell yourself that he

Cannot be

The friend you came to see,

That you would be a fool to greet

Him in this crowded luncheon-place.

But then, more certain, suddenly

You wish you could retreat,

Not have to mask surprise

At seeing one you thought to recognize -

Since he would always look the way

He did in times gone by -

Transformed to someone else.

 

You have a moment longer,

A moment nothing shields,

In which to realize

The reason for the puzzlement

That fills his eyes.

It is not just the light.

Time had touched you

Gently,

So you thought.

But now this moment yields

His waning stare

Of knowing no one here,

Followed by a not quite

Hidden

Look of awed surprise

And - is it? - grief

At being also brought

To a moment of defeat.

 

And then, waving,

All at once you meet.

 

And as the tired head-waiter

Leads you to a table

Not too central to success,

You talk of trifles, saving

The minor honesties for later,

After a drink or two.

And when the meal is ordered,

You try to guess.

How long it is since you

Saw one another.

And each in turn

Attempts to soften

The reason why

You have lost touch.

Both have lived so far away.

Neither is adept at letter

Writing.

And you tell each other

You are just the same.

And you smile

Too much

And use the strange first name

Too often.

 

Bur all the while,

Covertly, as thought it were a game,

You trace

The battlefields

Where joy was overcome by sorrow:

The signs about the eyes

Which hint at tears

Held back

To dig each nervous furrow.

And you surmise

Encounters when the mirror peers

Too close,

And the child’s

Surprise

Looks out, aghast

At having lost track

Of all the roads ahead.

 

Listening to the glosses which

He puts upon his life -

Why that job went bad,

What happened to his second wife;

You wonder if you sound as sad,

Explaining why you are not rich

And making much of other’s grief.

One by one the former friends

Go past,

And each has failed

Some way or another,

And all together seem

Less lucky than the two

Of you

Have been,

As you come at last

From melon, steak, and salad

To the over-cold ice cream.

This tired complacence spends

Itself in smoke.

And so you resurrect

A long-forgotten mutual joke.

 

But he, strong fingers snapping matches, bends

His head above

The ruins of

The single thing that matters -

Love.

 

Is there no hope at all

For this unhappy gentleman,

So far from childhood and from youth,

On whom beat the ice seas,

The cold wrinkling years

Ahead, and at night, fears?

 

There seems,

Among the proffered cigarettes,

The match-flare flashing to you first,

Something of promise now:

The humbler cadence when he speaks;

The gentleness with which he sets

Out a disparate point of view;

This deprecation -

As you recall some kindness

Long ago in his triumphant time -

Which adds a further colour to his cheeks;

The shy things he says at last:

‘And you?

You are, they all say, happy,

As you were not in the past.

Is this true?’

And when you try to show

That happiness may be at depths

You reach through sorrow,

He says: ‘I know.’

 

And then: ‘I wonder if...’

And as the waiters,

Wanting you to go,

Begin to clatter

The china on their trays,

He struggles with strange thoughts:

‘It is hard to see beyond tomorrow...

In God ... If I could just believe ...

But do you think ...?’

And you realize, that some matter

He would raise

Of eternal importance

Hesitates after the coffee.

 

But nothing very much is said.

And then the bill is paid

After a kind dispute.

You find yourself upon the street.

And it is necessary now to go.

And so -

Farewell.

 

Oh, how each one of them -

These friends I valued when

They and I were just young men

With nothing much to do

Except have fun -

Matters and

Means more and more,

As the gay music on the radio,

To which I write these lines,

Plays so sadly on.

 

How God brings us all low,

Abashed the pride of youth,

Haltingly to tell each other

Our unsuccess at being grand,

And makes us need each other

To understand,

After the sparkling years

Of our effervescent life,

In the flat time

When the illusions are gone.

 

All is for love,

And these meetings have their work to do.

But sometimes it is hard

To have to see what life has done

To the friends I used to know.

And so I write

With all my heart

Words that would reach out,

Like the music on the radio,

To say

That the young eternal day

Of happiness will come

And they who wonder now

If God is there

Will know.

 

But in the meantime life goes on,

Meetings and farewells,

And sometimes I am troubled

In the restaurants of strange hotels,

When a silence comes between us

At the mention of a friend

Who died the year before,

And I wonder why I fail to reassure.

 

Meeting again someone ...

Meeting again ...

 

Long ago.