Afterward

Stanley Plumly

Sometimes, for all time, we just tire of the struggle,
of what Stevens calls “the celestial ennui of apartments,”
from the umpteenth floor looking down through the ultimate
open window. A young man I knew, full of promise,
but filled, even more, with an emptiness he couldn’t
comprehend, took the elevator one night to the top
of his father’s Manhattan building, stepped out
onto the balcony of his father’s living room,
and like an Icarus drawn to the dark side of the moon
flew from this world. Who hasn’t had trouble,
especially at the edge, looking down into the heart
of the air, its depthlessness and purity?
Nor need we climb dream ladders to look down.
In the eyes of the other the pigment of the color
will sometimes separate, like snow, each fleck or flake
the paler version of itself falling, melting.
On Wednesday the king died, on Friday the queen died — 
or is it the reverse? — E. M. Forster’s definition
of narrative, and his idea of plot,
the fact that the queen dies of grief.
Causes and their effects, the romance
that halfway down or at the end we’re saved.
What or who she saw at the bottom of her fall
matters less than the weight of pain she carried there — 
and all that practice running the stadium stairs
in order to disguise the looking-down,
if only to wonder, time after time, at the distance.

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