Enough, the Centenarian’s story ends,
The two, the past and present, have interchanged,
I myself as connecter, as chansonnier of a great future, am now speaking.
(“The Centenarian’s Story” from Drum-Taps, Walt Whitman)
When I was a boy
not very long ago
they interviewed ex-slaves
for the magazines and centenarian
veterans of the American Civil War.
Now the nazi war criminals are almost all dead
my friend up in the mountains who smokes a pipe
who with his bulldozer scars the land is one of the few
Auschwitz survivors, I hope he lives
one hundred years.
Stories and songs change because pieces get lost
like the jigsaw puzzles of history, we get weary of partial images
of past horrors compared with the neat-o horrors
we cook up. What are we losing then when
a history book dies?
What is lost when a dancer dies or
an inventor or a common fallible family doctor
who was never well-liked and went senile
near the end, or a good cook or
an obsolete petticoat maker?
Is Mickey Rooney still alive, is Julie Andrews
is Florence Nightingale
or Johnny Appleseed
Lilian Gish and Katherine Hepburn and Eleanor Roosevelt
Grandma and Grandpa and all their brothers and sisters—
Who is still here,
I wish long life to the seven original Mercury astronauts
although they haven’t been seven for some time
I wish long life to whoever stood with me and prayed with me outdoors
freezing on Christmas Eve in 1969 during the illegal bombing
of Cambodia by President Richard Milhouse Nixon, deceased.