Listen to audio of Joyce Carol Oates reading this poem here.
Dear Jim,I #fnally got your letter enclosing your letter enclocussing your letter which was so ompportant foe me, thannkuok yuon very much. In time this fainful bsiness will will soonfeul will soon be onert.Tnany anany goodness. If S lossiee eli wyyonor wy sinfsignature.I hope I hope I make it.Bill
The first snowfall brings chaos.
First the horizon disappears, then
you disappear. When
William Carlos Williams suffered his first stroke
he was 68 years old, in 1951. His second,
the following year. The man loved
our American speech. Vulgar & graceless
as oversized boots he loved it. The pimply-
faced girl he loved. Forms inside things gnarly
to the touch. Smokestacks, mustard weed.
The steely river filling with acid & sparrows
picking in the dirt, like Death. Yet
still just sparrows. Beauty of marigolds,
& fried oysters. Beauty of spiderwebs,
Breughel’s hunters in the snow. Except
maybe what the poet saw & heard
was in his own head! Maybe in Rutherford,
N.J. there was nothing. Maybe
he was in despair, fierce lover
of women & adulterer & this morning waking to discover
someone has dressed him in an old man’s underwear—
gunmetal-gray, woolen-itchy, soiled cuffs
at bony wrists & ankles & the crotch unsnapped.
Opens his mouth to curse
& words choke like phlegm. A doctor doesn’t expect
to die like the rest of us … Waking in the sun
in Flossie’s garden back of the yellow house
the terror strikes him maybe he’s dreamt it all?—male
hands lifting a thrashing bloody infant
from between female thighs, &
ironweed along the railroad embankment
tough enough to thrive in cinders, &
there he’s laughing typing on the old manual
words leaping astonished out of the mute keyboard, keys
so worn you can’t read the letters. And
Clouds I’ve been noticing this morning, too.
Diesel-dirted, broken & yet dignified in motion
moving from west to east effortless above the pines
in this New Jersey smudged sky. In March 1963
the final stroke. “Died in his sleep.” Eyes
moving restlessly down the naked body.
On a gurney? Since when? The shock of it, his young
male body restored. Svelte dark down of the chest,
groin & soft stirring penis. Winter-pale
haunches, muscles hard as bone. Lifts
his head. Where? Christ, he’s alert, he’s curious—
ready to begin it all again—
This is the time for which we have been waiting.
Note: The letter from William Carlos Williams to his friend and editor James Laughlin was written sometime shortly prior to June 1962 when Williams’ last book, Pictures From Breughel, was published.