Editor's Note: David Garrison began writing this poem when he learned that his friend, Emeritus Professor of Political Science Jim Walker, was very ill. He read the poem at a Memorial Gathering following Jim's death on March 17, 2019. A villanelle, the poem was inspired by a line from “The Undertaking” by fellow poet Thomas Lynch, thus the title.
On a Line by Thomas Lynch
They make the floorboards creak like ships at sea,
they wink from glistening streetlights here and there.
They read the book we’re reading, touch our hair.
They walk beside us though we cannot see or hear their steps.
They constantly declare
themselves in letters we have saved. We stare
at those who favor them. The cypress trees
protect their souls like nesting birds. They are
not “in a better place,” they’re here. In air,
in water, earth, and fire. The timpani
of life beats on in death. The world is where
they linger, waiting for us. Say a prayer
for the dead, that they may always be
around us, in our homes and in the flare
of memories, so we do not despair.
They make their way across the river, we
can only see them off. We’re in their care
as life goes on. The dead are everywhere.