"Questions," by Hayden Carruth

Your voice comes to me, George, on the winter night

In the faint mazy stars, a murmur of hesitant light

In the air frozen solid, it seems, from here to Maine.

Lonely and late I made pancakes, awful pancakes,

And ate them with watery syrup and grease and with

Love of myself when young, with cognac in a glass,

And with cigarettes, the smoke coiling reflected

In the black window. What are you saying, George?

I strain to hear. Are you as smart and percipient

As you were, can you tell me what I almost know

In your words not mine as you used to, words

So French and accurate I thought Descartes

And Camus must live in you as well as Tolstoy

And Kropotkin, words of fierce loyalties and loves

For beautiful ideas and men and women? Tell me,

George, for Michael your boy’s sake, where are you,

When will we see you, have your bones become dust,

Is your voice dust in your throat? Oh, let the thin

Dawn come now with its fishblood on the horizon,

Its icy fog. You are the lovingest memory in this

Rattling brain that shakes off its synapses like an old

Dog climbing out of a cold brook. George, George,

What in God’s name must I do to get you back?

Hayden Carruth (1921–2008) was a well-known American poet, critic, anthologist, and editor. The recipient of both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for his poetry, Carruth managed to write and publish prolifically despite a life troubled by bouts of emotional instability, poverty, and alcoholism. “Questions” is an elegy for Carruth’s friend George Dennison, a fiction writer and critic. It can be found in Hayden Carruth’s Collected Shorter Poems 1946–1991, which was published by Copper Canyon Press and is reprinted here by permission.

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