Past Tense


Cool, rain-gray, classic, thin, the carved slate
Leans a little with age in two directions
But burdens not the dead with needless weight.

There was a time when death was satisfied
With small memento, such as a man could raise
Himself, if he wanted to, before he died–

With delicate willow and (without misgiving)
A verse of his own choosing, elegantly
Misspelled, to offer solace to the living.

Eighteen Hundred. I prefer past tense
In death–these few dark stones within a one-
Time white, long-unrepainted picket fence,

And three or four tall wind-torn wind-defying
Pines, and through the pines one smoke-blue hill
To give perspective to the fact of dying.


Robert Francis, Collected Poems, 1936-1976, University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.