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

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

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

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

There's a poem we want you to hear called "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like A Death." It's by our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz, who is also a poet. It was recently the featured poem on the Poem a Day page of poets.org, which is run by the Academy of American Poets. Here's Lloyd.

LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: 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.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz teaches in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His poem "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like A Death" is on our website. You can read it there at freshair.npr.org. Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new box set collecting albums produced by saxophonist Clifford Jordan in the '60s and '70s. This is FRESH AIR.

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