You, downcast, sitting on your bed,
painting your nails, and saying
to me, “I did this for you …”

And I, wondering at your words,
uncomprehending, yet moved
by a silent witness in the room.

I see you now in that very place,
your clothing heaped at random,
your head lowered, reading perhaps
from one of your common books
a story that if one had known how
might have been better told.

Understand that we either grow
or die—die inwardly of that
unlived life we carry within us
like a leaden shadow,
a possibility in thought corrupted.

And of each of us will remain
mostly an image in someone’s mind:
a brief light in the summer
darkness, a remembered gesture
like a single unfastened button.

1992

—John Haines

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 12 Number 9, on page 43
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