Handily thumb-indexed, my alphabet
of friends with their out-of-date addresses
is something I thumb through with some regret.
Some of their whereabouts are simply guesses.

Erstwhile colleagues, classmates, confidants—
just when did they stop writing? And just why?
Caught in the listing of their former haunts,
it’s more than memory, with a valiant try,

is able to retrieve. This couple split,
she has the children, he went—somewhere. Where?
(Some have dropped out in ways more definite,
leaving their lawn work to perpetual care.)

As to the few I hear from, I can see
in altered entries under every name
the upward trudgings of mobility.
Look at the moves it took to play the game:

the better neighborhood, the better job,
the better climate sirened them away,
taking a mere half-dozen years to rob
the ragged book of half its use. Today,

after I’d copied out the ones still good
I thought I would discard this now unneeded
dogeared directory. And so I should,
were I not stunned by all that’s superseded.

Robert B. Shaw

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 11 Number 4, on page 33
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