The epigraph in The
Immigrant came from this poem by Gilbert Allen.
for M.A., the best man
Imagine a man (grown slightly bald)
who has come this close
to ruining his life, this
close. He makes
few friends, and slowly
his mistakes disappear
because they consider him dangerous.
He grew up in a greenhouse
of ungrudging praise, lauded
by those who could see only
the solved equations, the lab reports
falsified convincingly, the ball
put into the hoop at the buzzer.
The man if you haven't guessed
is me, and if I've turned out
at least better, have committed
no sin past redemption
yet, it isn't as if
I didn't try. Sometimes
I shrug so much it seems
I'm up to my neck
in shoulders and yet . . . .
Last year, I watched home movies taken
a decade ago at my my wedding. Maples
were in full leaf, and the moment
of my vows, caught in the blurring sun
of midsummer and my mind, was exactly
as I had remembered. But the dead were
gone and yet
they were all around us:
parents, relatives, a friend.
I have become their second chance I thought
and I had almost
forgotten, then, now
that dense forest of roots.
But why am I bluff as a blind man
on a moonless night? Because
if they need second chances
then we shall have them.
If I have been lucky enough to
feel the warmth leach up
from the lawn each late afternoon,
to remember simplicities
like sunlight among the coarse, dutiful
green of the evening spruces, and if I have forgotten
and remembered once more, it is
for their sake also, those joined
in the ground.
We are all immigrants, landing
each moment upon a gray shore
where the future is the one citizen
by birth. But in the past, both witnessed
and read, there is always a second
chance, if we will go to the first
downed root or letter and look
again for what we could never grasp
once but will have, once more, will have.
Gilbert Allen, Second Chances, Orchises Press, 1991