Humanist Voices in Verse: Stephen Perry


Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.

April is National Poetry Month, established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to keep the love of poetry alive. In celebration we’re highlighting humanist voices in verse each Tuesday in April.

For My Readers
When I’m Dead

by Stephen Perry

As soon as you start
to say I haven’t started
yet, you’ve started.

As soon as you protest, but
I haven’t written
my epitaph yet,

they’re lowering the lid
of the music box
and closing it

with a little key.

Donald Justice and
Ellen Bryant Voigt
are playing

a work by Mozart
on a banged up piano
at Bread Loaf—

Haydn is still conducting
his Farewell Symphony,
Kinnell is still

composing his beautiful
on it, as

the candles are being
at Esterházy,

where the Prince
is letting
his musicians

go. I am still
writing my poem
to you,

I’m sweating,
it is the afternoon,
it is a gray day,

I’m worrying
about line breaks
as I’m doing them,

I’m listening to
the tappings
as if they’ll never

end, but they do,
as the blood ends,
yet why can I still see

their hands
on the keys

as if the sonata
were a jig
of Bach’s, G Major

for the organ—
Haydn jokes he’d give
his best quartet

for a razor,

Richard his kingdom,
Feynman plays
his bongos and

Rubinstein greets
Chopin again
with mirth

and chagrin. Where am I
buried?  You can tell me.
There should be no secrets

between friends.