By Victoria Leigh Bennett
He was a man
Rich in tea bags
And paper napkins.
His days were bounded
By thoughts of Caesar
But he was none of them.
Most of his friends
Thought he must at one time
Have been British,
For the accent was hard to place.
And when the little moustache quivered
At some frustration
With a daily happenstance,
In secret, they found it funny,
Though they didn't want to hurt him,
Oh no, never to hurt him.
He liked some alcohol in moderation,
Going to the local bar to have it
And always saluting the waitress politely,
Though he longed for a male presence
To be at his elbow, solicitous.
In token of her womanhood,
He always used the cardboard coaster
She brought him under his pint,
As if it had been her house and he her guest,
Convinced that she found him
More gallant that way.
He took his landlady's grim lace curtains
Down to be washed one day
When she had left them up just too long;
One day in winter, when the weather
Was damp and drear,
And he got soaked through, and his feet wet.
Then he sneezed once and was promptly ill,
As he would have expected.
When he signed into the hospital
The doctor wrote "chest complaint";
How quaint! As if he belonged
To another, untechnical era indeed.
And when he inexplicably sickened and died
A few days later,
"No family" was written on his card at the morgue,
Though a few well-meaning acquaintances
Held a brief and noncommittal
Over his ashes.
His little bird, as if she had been
A secret mistress no one knew about
Or had forgotten in the dull excitement,
Chirped with mysterious forebodings
For three days more
And then gave out from lack of water;
She only knew that she had nothing to drink,
Couldn't get out,
And there was nothing to be done about it.
When the ones appointed
Went to clear out,
They found her, and
"What a pretty pet!
How nice it would have been
For the children to take her!" they said.
She, whose little claws had stiffened
Into predatory shapes,
So gentle as she was.
Gentle, as he had been gentle,
And sometimes annoyed without conviction
At the bounds of her cage,
Just as he with his life.
No greater conqueror than he of her,
She his only claimed territory,
The only living thing he even lightly controlled.
His friends, shrugging in amusement
At the cabinet of tea and coffee supplies,
The paper napkins and the cans and jars
And boxes of tea and coffee,
Ended by dividing them up,
Each grateful, but not unduly,
For his or her share,
"To remember him by,"
Not one of them wondering
How long they might remember him
When the stuff was gone.
The landlady, satisfied that the tenant
Had kept the premises clean
Contented herself with a mere sweep
And a few swipes
With a lemon polish rag,
Putting her notices up in the paper again.
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