(For William A. Nitze, 10 September 2021)

Burnished in bronze
assumptions, what did
we think we were — gods
armored against death?

I gaze, in shock,
past calm dark church beams
at this service for Bill
who always showed up

for snowed-out feasts,
annual lunches; in cashmere
and patent-leather shoes to help
paint our apartment

who stayed erect
while we side-stepped towards age
except when they went to wake him
at that California conference.

Billy, loyal
to friends, good talk, and his long quest
to master one partita, and the play
of ideas over fickle polities

cherished comrade
in damp Oxford walk-ups
law school coliseums
our slow chaconne

of marriages,
childbirths, mingled careers
where he stood, solid through-line,
still stitching cross-chords

now this gash
in the staves of our score:
twenty years after,
no more communions

gut-punched again

now this void
snuffling the foreground –
mortality sucking at barbered hairlines,
minimally-rouged cheeks:

master weaver
disappearing in bleached-cambric
memory. Yet I hear among choristers in
this narrow pew

Bill’s muttered oaths
as he wanders
among thickets of notes, stuck in
Bach fugues but persisting

as must (drawn towards
our better selves by the valence
of his measured stride)
we all.