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A Letter - To Mr. J. Alfred Prufrock
Dearest Mr. Prufrock,
I write to tell you I am sorry.
I have become you.
the gigantic white tea rose which you plucked for me
the day of our tea party, when the world was foggy and we stood
in the rain speaking of umbrellas and circus elephants and the oddness
has withered. Spoiled, I think,
by the worm at her core. I found him crystalized in sap and nectar
when the petals had fallen, splayed like a pale and wandering hand on my windowsill.
I cannot go to confession for this.
As you know, the Almighty and I parted ways an age ago,
when his priest’s sneer began to turn to Satan.
But Also, Mr. Prufrock, I am afraid.
The death of a rose is too heavy.
Such great penance I must pay that I am Christ himself!
Mounted on a microchip or television screen in this age,
all hooked up to machines. That would be my only resurrection!
The jeweler’s loupe of fiberglass and steel
could not find diamonds underneath my skin.
But if, Prufrock, you are reading this somehow as I write it,
when the city lights and the thick smog—or maybe a snowstorm?—hang
like lynched men around me (now I feel, almost, as if I were in Georgia
or New Orleans, where memories of things like that
lurk with the gypsy women at each corner, behind doorways
and in the side-streets)
then know that she died on a golden afternoon, with the light like drying paint,
peeling from the walls, birch-bark and corn husks and all manner of light, translucent things.
In that moment:
I turn from sketching, from the small matter of tea and
a memory of you: ‘there will be time to murder and create’
I wonder, lift a teacake from the plate,
what questions you had, the last time we met, for the men who own freak shows
or the fat-lipped Arabians in the clubs of Paris
watching the women dance.
You hold judgment in your eyes, but how many roses are on your soul?
How many gloved hands, trailing skirts, effeminate lips
curled up at the scent of the rose but not at the tweed suit,
slightly slumped shoulders, defeat worn like a crown of thorns on your brow.
You are no Christ.
The jaundiced lepers in the backstreets wait
with the broken-necked whores in the backstreets
who died with words of glory on their lips.
Physicists say that if we backed away
Until our world fit on the tip of an electron
The universe would taste like a raspberry.
Where does God fit
Into something like that?
When a corpuscule-without endeavoring to be great- holds all the stone, water, light,
Soft grey hair, fine whispered words in twilight
Spinning the silk of the sky, the languid juice-colored sunset,
What would the scale of grandeur be,
If God were beneath my professor's top-hat
Small enough to disrupt the symmetry, the perfect doll-like China face
Of a porcelain plate?
Small enough to upset the balance, 12 feet up,
Of an amateur juggler?
Small enough to fall?
Can there be faith when god is just there.
By a raspberry?
Last night I held a child while he died.
He asked for me-the sound of my voice and the comfort of
the cat and the fiddle.
Through the pages, the noise of city buses, the windows that throw into light
the man typing in his cubicle, waiting to die
I never heard that violin tune.
It caught like razorblades on a poorly shaved cheek,
blood below the skin. I know, now, Prufrock,
that it plays a requiem.
Where does a child’s soul go,
if he does not know he is going to die?
That must be when innocence departs, like a little girl in a stained tea dress
from a porch swing in her grandmother’s garden.
When she trips on light, stumbles in her laced shoes over the bones of a frog
killed by the boys with their makeshift crossbows.
Miles away, little Jewish babies burn in their mother’s bellies.
Every living thing dies alone.
…with words of glory on their lips.
You know all this already, Prufrock.