1:31pm

Fri April 25, 2014
NPR Story

A Poetry Reading: 'To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like A Death'

Originally published on Fri April 25, 2014 3:54 pm

Originally broadcast on March 12, 2014.

Fresh Air's classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz is also a poet. He published a poem about friendship and loss on Poets.org. It's titled "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like A Death:"

In today's paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment

made me ache to call you — the only person I know
who'd still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-

absorption. We'd laugh (at what haven't we laughed?), then
not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can't call,

because I don't know what became of you.

— After sixty years, with no explanation, you're suddenly
not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid

you might be dead. But you're not dead.

You've left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted
number but insists on "respecting your privacy." I located

your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that
you're alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters.

What's happened? Are you in trouble? Something
you've done? Something I've done?

We used to tell each other everything: our automatic
reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes,

and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started
singing each other "Happy Birthday" every birthday?

(Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.)

How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude — the easy
unthinking kindnesses of long friendship.

This mysterious silence isn't kind. It keeps me
up at night, bewildered, at some "stage "of grief.

Would your actual death be easier to bear?

I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
comedy of errors. "When one's friends hate each other,"

Pound wrote near the end of his life, "how can there be
peace in the world?" We loved each other. Why why why

am I dead to you?

Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less
I understand this world,

and the people in it.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

The next poem we're going to hear got a big response the first time we played it last month, but good poems get even better when you hear them a second time. This was written by our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz, who has also published several volumes of poetry. The poem was initially published on the Poem-A-Day of poets.org, which is run by the Academy of American Poets. Lloyd's poem is called "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence is Like a Death."

LLOYD SCHWARTZ: This is a poem I wish I hadn't needed to write. Unfortunately, it's all true. I know I'm not the only person in the world who's had a close friend go missing without any explanation. But I'm still heartbroken and totally mystified.

(Reading) "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like A Death." In today's paper, a story about our high school drama teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment made me ache to call you, the only person I know who'd still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-absorption. We'd laugh, at what haven't we laughed, then not laugh, wondering what became of him.

(Reading) But I can't call because I don't know what became of you. After 60 years, with no explanation, you're suddenly not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid you might be dead. But you're not dead. You've left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted number but insists on respecting your privacy.

(Reading) I located your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that you're alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters. What's happened? Are you in trouble? Something you've done? Something I've done? We used to tell each other everything: our automatic reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes and sexual experiments.

(Reading) How many decades since we started singing each other "Happy Birthday" every birthday? Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail. How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude, the easy unthinking kindnesses of long friendship?

(Reading) This mysterious silence isn't kind. It keeps me up at night, bewildered, at some stage of grief. Would your actual death be easier to bear? I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest comedy of errors. When one's friends hate each other, Pound wrote near the end of his life, how can there be peace in the world? We loved each other. Why, why, why am I dead to you?

(Reading) Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less I understand this world and the people in it.

BIANCULLI: That's Lloyd Schwartz, our classical music critic, reading his poem "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like A Death." Coming up, our film critic David Edelstein but not with a poem. He has a review entirely in prose of the new British movie called "Lock." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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