Dying in Massachusetts

I think I should like to die in Massachusetts,
wading Parker’s River in sneakers at slack water,
my wire basket a quarter full of blue crabs,
and I easing my long-handled net towards a big one.

The sun is shining as hard as it can, for it is August.
Clamshell clouds are crowding over the western horizon.
I mash a green-head fly against the nape of my neck,
and the big crab scuttles away under the peat.

No matter. Because I am thinking of what I read
last night in Van Gogh’s letters: I am in it
with all my heart. I must become more skilled than I am
before I can be ever so slightly satisfied with myself.

And so at that moment the sun collapses into the river,
the crabs are spilled, the net, the fly, the collecting storm
plunge through a canvas of reds and yellows and blues
into the still, cool, clouded poem my life has written.

I’m the old white-bearded geezer they find,
floating face-down, two guys in a rented skiff,
with beer and sub sandwiches and Saturday off,
who on Sunday read about themselves in the Boston Globe,

and at night tell their wives about it in Worcester,
and on Monday their buddies down at the station-house.
So the rumor of Donald Baker’s death ripples
into the neighborhoods where he was born and grew up.

It passes 14 Reed Street, riding no-hands on a blue bicycle,
and Red Logan’s mother peers through her parlor curtains,
saying: all that expensive college education.
It rings a doorbell at 282 Chandler Street,

and Alice Crowe’s father takes his pipe out of his mouth,
saying: a good thing you married the dentist.
And for about ten seconds the streets light up
with the glances and ball games and arguments nobody remembers.

Now the tide turns, a cold stream flooding in
from Nantucket Sound nudges the body upriver,
and the majestic voyage begins, through the grief
of sister and daughters and wife, across the promotion,

with tenure, of junior colleagues, beyond Life Insurance
and Supplemental Retirement Annuity, to a Free
Government Marker and Eternal Care in the plot
in Pine Grove Cemetery behind the Tastee Freeze on Route 28.

My friends, there’s a lot of dignity here.
Those oaks are rooted in great-aunts and great-uncles,
that headstone shadows the secrets of my mother’s bed,
and my father’s electrons waver forever in this loam.

It is March 26th. I am in it with all my heart.
I must try to become more skilled than I am before I die.
For the titles of a thousand unwritten lives
are circling overhead on the gray sails of the gulls.