I Knew an Old Lady and She Died
a goodbye poem for David Wagoner
by Judy Clarence

“I knew an old lady and she died,”
you said in class that day, teaching us
how not to write.

This won’t be that kind of poem.
I know an old poet and he died
just the other day. Fifty
years since I sat in his class
absorbing his critiques and praise,
following his orders: read poems,
Read poems,
then, read more poems,
and off I went with poems in my head
and fierceness in my heart.
But still, “Your poems lack tension.”
How could I get tense? How would I manifest
misery, abuse, poverty, aging? “Just
wait,” he said. “They’re coming. All
of them.” And they did. Every
single one. For the hundredth time,
I manifest grief.


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