Howard Firkin
Elisabeth Maranta for the last 18 years has run a Romansh bookshop, Il Palantin, which sells books in Romansh. Asked why most of the books in Romansh she sells are poetry, she muses: “When a patient is dying, he writes only poetry.”
New York Times, September 2010.
This is your poem, written in a tongue
that’s dying, that will frame its phrases knowing
that no one reads them without stopping, going
to look them up, cornflower blue among
the common yellow maize of commerce words.
To die is to define what can be known.
It never seems a lot because it’s not.
That’s why the dying cry; it’s why death’s got
such rotten press: you’re bare; your cover’s blown:
you know as much as gum trees know of birds.

Somewhere a woman sells another book.
She smiles and wraps it; takes a little cash.
Perhaps this one will read, not simply look.
The fire is remembered in the ash.