The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

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MARCH 2021 Issue
Poetry A Tribute to Lewis Warsh

Losing Lewis

I’ll be 72 years old
and in 12 days
Lewis will be 76
if he lives that long

In September, he called to say
he had fallen down and broken his hip
but now he was back home

The problem, he says
my fingers are so stiff
I can barely type

Every fifteen minutes,
I have to stop myself
from calling him

Let him be, I tell myself
you can’t stop it


Lewis calls and says he’s in hospice
I hang up the phone and weep

You will lose Lewis, I tell myself
but you will go on

You were given a body
a family, some sense of care and safety
a voice, a book to read, a place to sleep
you were given love by many friends and lovers
you were given babies, two children, two adults with their children
and what you say and do to and for them reverberates
      patience, tenderness, anger, frustration
every ache in your body as you huddle under the blanket
listening to the sound of rain and the car wheels passing over the pavement
you were given the ability to express yourself, to send words off into the world
you were given bones, sinews, the ability to stand, stretch, dance and move through the air

frailty, yes you were given your frailty, too
and the ability to weep and so you weep

In the middle of the night, you think
perhaps some clue will roll out of your pen
all these years after your legs, arms and heart
first slid through your mother’s vagina
some words to help you find a way
to go on without Lewis

Those piles of yellow leaves on the sidewalk, crushed by the rain
with some ability to resist disease, eventually we must accept failure

I can’t get my fingers to work at all, he says
movement is being taken away
the ability to walk curtailed
The body he has been given is now being taken away
and he worries about his children, the others, the unanswered emails

All was given and soon all will be taken away
The yellow elm leaves on the sidewalk
and the sounds of my neighbors
passing in the hallway

I’m going to miss you, Lewis
Oh, Barb

When the lindens lose their leaves
the sun filters through the branches
with winter comes sunlight


On November 15th
on zoom, I read, Lewis’s poem
‘What I Learned This Year’
In 71, he learned about love
how when your heart said Yes, you did it
and when your body said No, you stopped
and unless you stop, it just goes on forever
On November 15th, Lewis died.

I close my eyes and imagine
knocking on his office door, he opens it
beckons me in and closes the door

After crying, my coughing stops
the salt in tears
makes everything a little clearer


a long black coat with two buttons missing
a dad
dishevelled hair
I taught him how to use the computer for word processing, and he didn’t like it
I taught him how to do email, and he said he’d never do it
I asked if he was texting and he said, absolutely not

I remember meeting him at the 3rd street playground in 85 with our children
going to Rockaway Beach together. I remember the mouse
running across my pillow in his cluttered apartment

Full of concern for others, little patience with selfishness
Poetry was the thing, be ambitious with poetry, he said

He recorded the thread of his own thoughts
as the words of others wove in between and around

For years we met at Angelica’s Kitchen
always sitting at the same table by the front window


At Greenwood Cemetary a small gathering read Kaddish
I looked up into the sky over the crematorium
and suddenly a big puff of black smoke shot into the blue

Sophia said, Dad always woke me up with a soft whisper


Two nights later, I dream I’m in a cab trying to find Lewis
He gave me directions to a cabin somewhere in the desert
In my pocket, I find a list of others he’s invited
He was supposed to be there alone, he was going there to die
and now I’m stuck in traffic in a cab on Canal Street

In the blurry light of morning, I lean into my pillow
losing the dream, all the while trying so hard to hold on

Goodbye dear friend, I think, as I roll over
and begin my morning routine—Yes, we go on


Barbara Henning

Barbara Henning has several published novels and books of poetry, recently Digigram (United Artists 2020); forthcoming is Prompt Book: Experiments for Writing Poetry and Fiction (Spuyten Duyvil).


The Brooklyn Rail

MARCH 2021

All Issues