Brodsky, Walcott, Heaney and Me

Brodsky, Walcott, Heaney and Me


Cambridge, 1984


It was l984. They were all still alive,

none had yet won the Nobel. I was 35,

forever humming the Talking Heads’ line

How did I get here? to myself as I walked

through Harvard Square. As I remember,

we all ordered hamburgers. My friend Harry,

Joseph’s translator, was there too, just

to keep things human. I don’t remember much

of what we talked about— or, rather, they

talked, we listened. I remember they were crazy

about Frederick Goddard Tuckerman,

whom I had never heard of. When I got home,

I looked up his poems, filled with cedars

and hemlocks. One line struck me most of all:

And Change, with hurried hand, has swept these scenes.


It’s almost 2020 now. Change, with hurried hand,

has swept that scene: All three of them

are gone, their Nobel Prizes gone with them.

Only Harry and I are still here, feet on the ground,

no prizes to speak of.  And Tuckerman, too,

is long gone from that day, the rain that was

drumming outside and none of us yet knowing

what was to come, or by whose hand.