Welcome to the Springs

By Philip Schultz

    The dispersion and reconstitution of the self.

    That’s the whole story. — Charles Baudelaire

In memory of Robert Long

Here I am at your grave, again.
Often enough, driving around East Hampton, 
taking short cuts you taught me, 
this is where I end up. Okay.
But it’s been ten years and I’m still not sure 
what the Baudelaire quote on your stone means — 
the soul’s endless search for resolution, 
our need to constantly redefine our illusions? 
You know and won’t say. What you don’t know 
is that we divided your things. I got 
the Tiepolo poster and Elizabeth Bishop’s 
Geography III (noting her preference 
for undercutting the tragic with a parenthesis). 
By the way, there’s a bright red Mercedes 
in your driveway, you, who always just got by. 
And your favorite sign, Welcome to the Springs, 
is now at the center of a local controversy. 
Some want to drop the “the” and just say Springs — 
imagine that. Monica’s new sculpture 
has grown darker, as you said it would. 
Eli is happy at Amherst, and Augie likes to write 
(what a surprise!), while I’ve forgiven you, finally, 
for not living to see the book you helped me write 
get published. Only now do I understand that 
it’s not the resentment I regret, it’s the shame. 
Us, the oddest of sympathies — poetry friends, 
vying for attention, encouragement, you, sober 
six years, a historian of the art scene out here 
on the East End of Long Island, I, married with 
small kids, each writing again after a long silence. 
“Write about this place,” you’d say, “find its soul, 
make it yours!” Yes, the ever-evolving, ever-munificent 
light all your painters came here for — de Kooning 
biking drunk down Springs-Fireplace Road, 
calling “Goodnight, Robert, best of luck.”
Hey — last night on TV Bogart, playing 
a drunken mercenary hiding out as a priest, 
was told to seek sympathy among his own kind. 
Well, all your personas: ex-drunks, art critics, 
musicians, cooks and poets came to your funeral, 
good food and music, but not much to say. 
What role did I play that last night, watching you, 
high on morphine, drop cigarettes into your lap,
swooning inside a cancer and Coltrane-stained oblivion? 
“What can I do?” you asked. “There nothing I can do.” 
Well, what didn’t you do — chauffeuring James Brown 
from Harlem to Montauk, high on Librium 
you got from a Chelsea speed freak, cooking 
your manic bouillabaisse stuffed with half 
the Atlantic Ocean, spoon-dancing Getz 
and Bud Powell, swollen with vodka and 
dreams of Venice, your dinner riffs to Li Po, 
Machado and Blake. How I liked your stories 
of you, a gay teenager, wandering among your 
MoMA pals, Goya, Rauschenberg and Francis Bacon, 
learning to hide inside art’s ecstatic parenthesis. 
In any case, it’s March, warm and wet and windy, 
and this is where I live, here, where everything 
lives in the eye and ear, and a silky frenzy 
steeps the wetlands in testimony, in praise, 
where the mating calls of osprey ricochet 
between the loquacious silence of the dunes 
and the cleansing sweep of moonlight, 
where the souls of the dispersed dead pass,
making and remaking their silhouettes 
one luminous, lost imagination at a time. 

From Philip Schultz’s collection “Luxury,” just out from W.W. Norton. Robert Long was an editor at The Star.