–for Peter Sears (1937-2017), after Tom Sexton
He does not fly over these hills or fields. Instead
he crosses the quad of every campus he inspired.
Surrounding him, a susurration of aspen and maple,
his loneliness calling his name. But he doesn’t stop–
his students wait for him. He climbs the steep ramp
to the library’s entrance without a breath to spare
though he finds another quick enough for the cat, any cat,
who might appear where dew lies thick on the high grasses.
His cronies who have paid the ferryman lean into his ear.
Ask me, William begins, and he tells them,
what if the river is an animal throwing the ice
right off its back! This leap of the mind on the page
is what he lives for, then and now. He has no need
to drink from the river.
I was inspired by the dream quality in Tom Sexton’s poem, imagining the afterlife of the poet. The italicized lines and title are drawn from Peter’s last book, Long Day (Lynx House Press, 2019): “Driving Around,” “The Dew Lies Thick on the High Grasses,” and “The Ferryman at the River Lethe.” “Ask Me”, a poem by William Stafford, is the prompt Peter used at every workshop during his tenure as Oregon Poet Laureate and is referenced in his poem, “When the River Thaws.”