Most of them, anyway, require just
ambulatory assistance, my contact claims,
wheelchairs, walkers, an elbow.
And when I begin by reading
(first in Polish, then English) the 3rd Lament
of Jan Kochanowski--
not yet with branch or
barely a sprouted shoot
that some zealous gardener
might clip to uproot
prickly thorns or
patch of nettles
about the death of his two-and-a-half-year-old
the woman closest calls out I can't hear, please
I can't hear. Some are clearly enthralled
as long forgotten phrases tease them back
to the bared bleeding bosom of Saint Hedwig.
Others cough or choke on coughed-up dinner loaf.
I move on to the 5th, the 7th, the 13th, the one
that recalls his daughter singing a song normally sung
by village brides--
Oh mother farewell
no longer help
or in this house dwell.
for now I am able to
beloved parents forever.
By the end
I am hot and breathless. We all wonder, what
am I doing here, why am I saying these things?
A third of the group has nodded off, another third
excited by upcoming pinochle. We thank you so much,
my contact says, as a man and woman, both recent
buriers of spouses, linger by the podium. She asks,
gripping his pulsing wrist securely, do you think
you can teach him to polka?
If you've any comments to offer, Leonard Kress would
be pleased to hear from you.