This poem was triggered by a prompt, but from the opening line had nothing to do with that prompt beyond using direct address. Sometimes a poem wants out, and all it’s waiting for is the door to be opened a crack.
That gentleman up there is Wallace Stevens, the single greatest formative force in my career as a writer. He made me want to be a poet. He led an interesting life — feuding with Frost, having a (very short) fistfight with Hemingway, and working as an insurance executive for much of his adult life, beginning his creative output quite late. Some of this, as well as references to some of his work, turn up in this poem.
Letter After a Dream
I sat on the low stone wall of the hotel garden where you bickered with Frost
And waited. I thought we would walk together by the harbor-streaked water
Beneath the disorganized palms. But you took my elbow, steered me inside,
Bought drinks in sweating glasses. I should look out for that, they said, but
Even when you handed me my second and revealed your angular knuckle,
Your gift from Papa, you remained the chill and cultured underwriter.
In the close, dripping air of the veranda we drank together, surrounded by the
Fierce disorder of all your cool, pale flowers — wild geranium, hothouse iris, canna,
Marguerite, and a single brittle white rose. This is what I write to you tonight to ask:
If you truly believe that what gave them their life, their order, and their meaning,
Was the chipped vase that encompassed their gradual, fizzling death.