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Tom Montag

From a Photograph By Ben Shahn (1938)

Four men wait for the auction to begin.

Three of them wear bib overalls; the other

has belt and slacks. Two of them wear hats;

one holds his in hand. It is 1938.


The sun is shining down hard on them

on the lawn, burning out the highlights

around barrel and bed, desk and chair,

footstool. Behind them, a shed or garage,


and the back of a great house, white but shaded

by trees. Someone has died, you think. This is

someone's estate sale. The men face each other

and talk, but stand far enough apart their


shadows don't touch. The shed needs to be

re-roofed. You can see that. The lawn needs mowing.

The bushes could stand some trimming. Someone

has died and left behind the clean-up.


You can almost hear flies buzzing in the heat.

Somewhere birds are singing. There's a boy

in the background, walking through the photo,

eleven years old, already lanky,


already wearing a man's hat, swinging

his terrible long arms into some future

which doesn't include this auction and

losses he doesn't know how to bear.

Poem For My Friend With The Guitar


Let us take up our instruments –

you, your sad, sweet guitar;

me, the thick-fingered bass;


and let us tamp out a beat

to get the rhythm going,

the feel of it before it comes.


Then, friend, let us play all night

the song the night has wanted.


So.  Tomorrow

is it, you think.


Or could be. Death

is not something


done to us, but

something we do.


Embrace that which

embraces you,


I say. Do not

turn away. Leave


off your grieving.

Take it. Take it


now, holy, whole.

from a photo by
poem for my friend
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