Philip Larkin, 1922-1985

Poets, Larkin, some of us became
for no more reason than a face
in a book, or a strange name
we recognized and learned to trace

through poetry anthologies
we bought in second-hand shops.
Your work never seemed to please
anyone I knew, but my bus stops

in the same sort of neighborhood-
a couple of bars, a flower store,
a pharmacy where it's understood
evening's the best time to score-

and so I read about your rooms
rented by the week, your trips
to Blackpool, the dusty tombs
in old churches, the way strips

of wallpaper halfway falling
from bathroom ceilings never
let go entirely. Calling
myself a poet's not been a clever

thing to do, but calling you one
made me feel better sometimes.
I put the book down now, done
admiring your effacing rhymes,

and pull the chain, and think
while pulling up my pants, I'll
duck around the corner for a drink,
and maybe some chick with style

will be there waiting for some guy
I used to know, and on the strength
of that I'll say hello, and buy
her a drink, and down the length

of the bar our reflections
in the mirror won't seem half bad.
Unmarred by the imperfection
of her waiting to be had

by someone else, she'll smile,
and I'll slowly let my hand
wander along her thigh while
we converse: she'll understand

it's nothing, just another way
to pass the time until the guy she's
waiting for comes in: today
he's passed four scrips. Her knees

shift properly, and off they go
to snort and sniff and make a run
downtown to sell some reds. They know
I'm straight these days, and not much fun

to be with anymore. Most nights
I end up sitting in my room
reading a book, with all the lights
turned off but one-a kind of gloom

I've almost grown accustomed to.
Sometimes I think I see your face
there in the shadows, shot through
with nothingness, and in no place

at all-a state you always knew
you'd come to, by and by:
empty, and featureless, and blue
and clearly not a kind of sky.