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THE ONLY WORK In memory of Agha Shahid Ali

September 08, 2002|Glyn Maxwell | From "The Nerve" by Glyn Maxwell (Houghton Mifflin: 58 pp., $22)

When a poet leaves to see to all that matters,

nothing has changed. In treasured places still

he clears his head and writes.

None of his joie-de-vivre or books or friends

or ecstasies go with him to the piece

he waits for and begins,

nor is he here in this. The only work

that bonds us separates us for all time.

We feel it in a handshake,

a hug that isn't ours to end. When a verse

has done its work, it tells us there'll be one day

nothing but the verse,

and it tells us this the way a mother might

inform her son so gently of a matter

he goes his way delighted.

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