For Langdon Hammer and James Merrill
If merely to read the massive biography
of a poet is arduous, then to write
it beggars the imagination. To stand
both close and far, to look forward and back,
to measure experience through the mirror
of pages, poems, letters….Poised at the threshold
of such a life, a chronicle features several thresholds
including the biographer’s,
who sometimes peers into the cloudy mirror
of his own past and writes
in a crabbed cipher like Leonardo’s. Back-
ward slanting letters stand
facing the past. Or else the writer stands
hesitant at this undertaking’s threshold:
invited once, will he be welcomed back?
Not every biographer
completes the love letter he may have begun by wanting to write.
The documents he assembles yield a mirror,
but who will be reflected in that mirror?
So many shards of mosaic. I once stood
at the bottom of an Athenian staircase: right
above me waited my host, the poet. Threshold
into a chapter of my youthful biography
I perceive only now I’m looking back.
Books can be read either from front to back
or “like a Hebrew book” (Longfellow): mirror-
reversal of events. Biography
too can be understood
end to beginning. Advance over the threshold
and then retreat and start to read. Or write.
This book’s each sentence strives to get things right.
The word flies forth and cannot be called back.
From birth to death is not a single threshold
but countless arches, wilderness of mirrors,
no right reflection no matter where you stand.
The brave biographer
takes a stand, traces a range of thresholds
wavering in a lifetime’s hall of mirrors.
Death took the poet. This bio brings him back.