Two Old Poets, One in a Rush
by Donal Mahoney
Tom was having trouble with outgoing emails. Some would come back with a message from the mail administrator about a server problem, a message Tom didn't understand. He had no other problems with his computer that day. And he couldnt tell from the message which server was at faulthis or the server on the receiving end.
So he decided to send an email to Bill, an old friend whose technological savvy was probably less than his. He wanted to see if Bill would receive the message and send a reply, confirming that someone, anyone, was getting his emails.
Its best to admit upfront that both Tom and Bill are less than technologically astute. Perhaps thats because they're closer to eternity than most. Computers came late into their lives. Both are now in the home stretch, so to speak.
According to Tom, Bill is so old he wrote his first poem with cuneiform when that was all the rage. And Bill tells their friends--those still above ground--that Tom wrote his first poem with a quill. All this may or may not be true with both men given to hyperbole in lighter moments, few as those moments now may be.
Tom's memory isnt what it once was, either. Nevertheless, he had high hopes of getting in touch with his old friend when he sent his email to Bill but he received no response for days. Finally Bill's answer arrived.
Bill wrote, I got your email today when I checked my more than 100 messages awaiting my immediate response. I read two Larkin poems after breakfast."
That was the sum total of Bill's email. Tom's old friend didnt have anything else to say. It had been 60 years since the two men last worked together putting out a print magazine, but Tom could tell from his message--the first one he had received from Bill in a couple of years--that despite his pacemaker and a couple of stents, he was doing okay.
Bill wasnt at all pleased when that cardiologist put foreign objects in his chest to keep him alive but he got used to the idea. And from his response, Tom could tell that life was still good for Bill. He was reading poetry and probably still writing it. Maybe a short story now and then as well. He was not a man to waste words. He always got right to the point if there was one.
It was obvious to Tom as well that Bill was still not in a rush about anything. Backed up with 100 or so unanswered emails, Bill was instead attending to more important stuffreading Philip Larkins poetry, for example, after breakfast. Retirement has its rewards and Bill was savoring every one of them.
But then, Bill had never been in a rush, Tom remembered, except when the two of them were on deadline putting out a monthly magazine. They both were in a rush then because they were the whole staff. They had no other help.
Bill moved pretty fast in those days. More importantly, perhaps, he had skills. He could write, as could Tom, and he knew grammar and had a sense of layout. The two of them served as their own art director. Budget constraints made this possible.
Over the years Tom had learned a lot about layout from Bill, something that helped a great deal in other editorial jobs later in life.
In his personal life, however, Bill did very little and did it very slowly, reading good fiction and poetry and doing his best to write well himself. His writings had been published in good places over the years so he had succeeded to some degree but not to his own satisfaction.
After giving Bill's response considerable thought, Tom wrote back to his old friend and said,
Great to hear from you again and happy to see the world has not changed your lifestyle. I can almost hear your groan after you read that word lifestyle in the previous sentence. But Ill bet lifestyle is in the Oxford English Dictionary, assuming someone is still publishing it.
The OED is probably not in print anymore but its likely online. Your old edition probably wouldnt have lifestyle in it but the book itself might be worth quite a bit of money at a rare bookstore. I know you would rather part with your left arm than your OED.
Bill, I promise not to bother you again until after Memorial Day and then only to let you know Im still alive. I promise to put the subject line in all caps so you will know its from me. I dont want my email to die in cyberspace among all the others youve left unopened.
"God forbid anything should happen to you in the meantime but if it does ask your sister to let me know.
"I gave my wife a stamped letter to mail to you should anything happen to me. If she dies first, Ill guess youll never find out.
Until then keep reading Philip Larkin and maybe throw in a little Wallace Stevens now and then as a chaser.
Tom sent the email to Bill but never received a response, and he may not until he writes to him again after Memorial Day to confirm that one or both of them is still alive. By then Bill might have as many as 300 unopened emails and Toms may be added to that list.
At his age, Bill is not in a rush. And Tom admits hes slowing down a bit himself. He still writes every day to stay awake and sends stuff out to publishers. Some of it gets published, some of it not. Tom knows he and Bill wont be around that much longer. But he hopes he has enough time left to send another email to Bill after Memorial Dayand that Bill is there to get it whether he opens it or not.
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