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--for Carl Sagan
We die despite appointments and feuds,
while our toddler,
who recently learned to say No,
opens and shuts drawers
a hundred times a day
and our teen braces
for the rapids of romance.
We die despite the contracts
and business trips we planned,
when our desk is untidy,
despite a long list of things to do
which we keep simmering
like a pot of rich broth.
We die despite work we cherish,
marrying whom we love,
piling up a star-spangled fortune,
basking on the Riviera of fame,
and achieving, that human participle
with no known object.
Life is not fair, the old saw goes.
We know, we know, but the saw glides slow,
one faint rasp, and then at length another.
When you died, I felt its jagged teeth rip.
Small heartwounds opened and bled,
closing as new ones opened ahead.
Horror welled, not from the how but the when.
You died at the top of your career,
happy, blessed by love, still young.
Playing by evolution's rules, you won:
prospered, bred, rose in your tribe,
did what the parent gods and society prized.
Yet it didn't save you, love or dough.
Even when it happens slow, it happens fast,
and then there's no tomorrow.
Time topples, the castle of cards collapses,
thoughts melt, the subscription lapses.
What a waste of life we spend in asking,
in wish and worry and want and sorrow.
A tall man, you lie low, now and forever
complete, your brilliant star eclipsed.
I remember our meeting, many gabfests ago,
at a crossroads of moment and mind.
In later years, touched by nostalgia,
I teased: "I knew you when
you were just a badly combed scientist."
With a grin, you added: "I knew you when
you were just a fledgling poet."
Lost friend, you taught me lessons
I longed to learn, and this final one I've learned
against my will: the one spoken in silence,
warning us to love hard and deep,
clutch dear ones tighter, ransom each day,
the horror lesson I saw out of the corner of my eye
but refused to believe until now: we die.
From the Hardcover edition.