End Words, by Randall Mann


in memory of Reetika Vazirani (1962-2003) and Rachel Wetzsteon (1967-2009)

Sewanee, Tennessee.
Summer of ‘96, I went there for
booze and poetry and rest.
I danced a little dance;
I talked a little shop.
I forgot a recent ghost.

“Invitation to a Ghost”
was my favorite poem in Tennessee.
And Justice taught my workshop.
(God love him, he called me decadent for
ending a line with an anapest.) At the dance
party with Allison and the rest

of the poets from Rebel’s Rest,
ambition was the ghost
unseen, but always in attendance.
And I misplaced my faith in Tennessee,
upon a hill: I gave an undergrad what-for
after priming him with lines of Bishop.

Gossip is another word for talking shop.
But Rachel, sharper than the rest,
winner of things I hoped for,
was above all that, like a charming host.
She spoke of posterity in Tennessee.
And every day felt like a dance

preparing us for a bigger dance.
In the bookstore, I pretended to shop
with Reetika, Rachel’s roommate in Tennessee,
wicked-funny and stunning and rest-
less. We flirted like we stood a ghost
of a chance. I was twenty-four.

I wonder now what it’s all been for:
that summer; the words; the awful dance
that followed. So many ghosts.
Let the muses close the horror shop.
Let Rachel and Reetika rest.
—Years ago, there was Tennessee.

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