Dear cousin Jo, when I was but a tad
You baby-sat me when I wasn’t good,
For which you knew the reason: You understood
Me better than my parents. As a lad
I joined the Navy just the way you had
During The War. Every time I could,
I visited you in your neighborhood
In San Diego. We were seldom sad —

That is, till now. We were the best of friends
All our lives, and we’ll continue so
As long as I’m alive. I won’t forget
How close we always were from the day we met,
But now we find that you are forced to go
Through that doorway where the future ends.

Through that doorway where the future ends
I see a lot of nothing standing by.
“Oh, Lewis,” asked your uncle one day, “why
Must we grow old?” I guess it all depends
On what that inquiry of his portends,
For he was pushing sixty then, while I
Was in my teens. He said it with a sigh
As I recall, and my reply impends

Now as then. I was amazed he’d ask
His replacement generation such a thing.
I stared at him. I had no answer, for
I’d never pondered it. It’s still a task
To wrap my mind around such questioning.
“Because we do, that’s all.” There’s nothing more.

“Because there’s nothing more,” I should have said,
Perhaps, but he was a religious man,
A minister no less. If I began
To doubt while I was young, still I would dread
To tell him so. I stalled a bit instead
Of saying, “I won’t be a clergyman.
I can’t believe that silly stuff.” I ran
Away to sea when school was done. I fled

Instead of waiting for the coming fall
When classmates would be starting to attend
Their colleges. My folks were poor. It all
Seemed obvious to me, so why not blend
My fate with obligation? Why forestall
The doom that circumstance seemed to intend?

The doom that circumstance seemed to intend
Turned out to be an aircraft carrier,
Its predecessor a famous harrier
Of World War II, the Hornet. I would spend
Two years before her mast, and we would wend
Our way around the world: The barrier
To short cuts? — her derriére
Too large for the Panama, so they would send

Us through Suez instead. That’s where we’d sail
After our shakedown in the Caribbean.
In the Dead Sea I looked beneath the rail
And wondered what it was that I was seeing —
There lay beside us a shark large as a whale
Near the ocean’s surface, a monstrous being.

Near the ocean’s surface, a monstrous being
From the deep swam beside us keeping
The Hornet company. The desert’s sweeping
Sands flew away to the horizons fleeing
Before the sun and evening shadows slipping
Out of the pyramids. The shark lay sleeping
Gray and motionless, yet somehow tipping
Balances about us, no two agreeing

On equipoise, the heavy heavens lying
Upon the desert threatening to glide
From underneath the ebbing, slowly dying
Day into night like the promised bride
Of the pharaoh silence breathing the heavy musk
Of the sarcophagus in the coming dusk.

Of the sarcophagus in the coming dusk
We never were to speak, for we had days
Yet to pursue, we had the numerous ways
Of fate to find before we felt the brusque
Dismissal of the grave.  The narwhal’s tusk
Could be avoided. There were subtle grays
And shades of darkness to endure, the plays
Of minnows and anchovies dodging cusk.

I lived through a typhoon in mid-Pacific,
Played on Oahu’s beaches for a bit,
Sailed underneath the Golden Gate — terrific
Feat of engineering, that! We hit
The light fantastic and the sweet sublime.
Then we enjoyed our San Diego time.

Then we enjoyed our San Diego time
Together. You made pasta meals for me
And my shipmates. We attended the ballet
To see Maria Tallchief. The coastal clime
Was perfect for a while. I learned to rhyme
Better, began to publish poetry —
I did not know that that was soon to be
The way my life would go. And so our prime

Fell upon us and soon let us go
To take the wind away. It wasn’t bad
For me, but Dad and Mom, your brother Joe,
And his wife Josie too — they all had
This plot for you here in Buffalo,
Dear cousin Jo, like when I was a tad.