{An Umbrella Special Feature}


David Mason

is an editor, a teacher, a librettist and a poet whose collections include The Buried Houses (1991), winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize; The Country I Remember (1996), winner of the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award; Arrivals (2004); and the verse novel Ludlow (2007), awarded the Colorado Book Award for Poetry and named best book of poetry in 2007 by the Contemporary Poetry Review and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

He co-edited the anthologies of poetry Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism (1996), Twentieth Century American Poetry (2004), and Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry (2005), as well as the essay collection Twentieth Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry (2003).

He teaches at Colorado College and was appointed the Colorado poet laureate in 2010.


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Mrs. Mason and the Poets

At that point I had lived with Mr. Tighe
so many years apart from matrimony
we quite forgot the world would call it sin.
We were, in letters of our friends at Pisa,
Mr. and Mrs. Mason, the common name
domesticating the arrangement. (Our friends
were younger, thinking it a novelty.)

You’ve heard about Lord Byron and his zoo,
how he befriended geese he meant to eat
and how they ruled his villa like a byre
with peacocks, horses, monkeys, cats and crows.
And our friend Shelley whom we thought so ill,
whose brilliant wife was palely loitering,
waiting to give birth and dreading signs
that some disaster surely must befall them.
Shelley of the godless vegetable love,
pursuer of expensive causes, sprite.
He had confided in me more than once
how his enthusiasms caused him pain
and caused no end of pain to those he loved.

Some nights I see his blue eyes thrashing back
and comprehend how grieved he was, how aged.
Genius, yes, but often idiotic.
It took too many deaths, too many drownings,
fevers, accusations, to make him see
the ordinary life was not all bad.

I saw him last, not at the stormy pier
but in a dream. He came by candlelight,
one hand inside a pocket, and I said,
You look ill, you are tired, sit down and eat.

He answered, No, I shall never eat more.
I have not a
soldo left in all the world.

Nonsense, this is no inn—you need not pay.

Perhaps it is the worse for that
, he said.
He drew the hand out of his pocket, holding
a book of poems as if to buy his supper.
To see such brightness fallen broke my heart,
and then, of course, I learned that he had drowned.

Once, they say, he spread a paper out
upon a table, dipped his quill and made
a single dot of ink. That, he said,
is all of human knowledge, and the white
is all experience we dream of touching.
If I should spread more paper here, if all
the paper made by man were lying here,
that whiteness would be like experience,
but still our knowledge would be that one dot.

I’ve watched so many of the young die young.
As evening falls, I know that Mr. Tighe
will come back from his stroll, and he will say
to humour me, Why Mrs. Mason, how
might you have spent these several lovely hours?


And I shall notice how a slight peach flush
illuminates his whiskers as the sun
rounds the palms and enters at our windows.
And I shall say, As you have, Mr. Mason,
thinking of lost friends, wishing they were here.


And he: Lost friends? Then I should pour the wine.

And I? What shall I say to this kind man
but Yes, my darling, time to pour the wine.

 

[Originally published in The Hudson Review.]