A Reckoning

By Richard Wilbur

At my age, one begins
To chalk up all his sins,
Hoping to wipe the slate
Before it is too late.

Therefore I call to mind
All memories of the kind
That make me wince and sweat
And tremble with regret.

What do these prove to be?
In every one, I see
Shocked faces that, alas,
Now know me for an ass.

Fatuities that I
Have uttered, drunk or dry,
Return now in a rush
And make my old cheek blush.

But how can I repent
From mere embarrassment?
Damn-foolishness can’t well
Entitle me to Hell.

Well, I shall put the blame
One the pride that’s in my shame.
Of that I must be shriven
If I’m to be forgiven.

In Response to A Reckoning
By Richard Wilbur

By Hudson Owen

Dear Sir, in matters of regret,
I know a thing or two, I’ll bet.
And though not one to blab or tweet,
I’ll write a few lines, short and sweet.

This reckoning of yours, you write,
Calls to mind a rush of fright;
Things you said or left undone:
Faces, ghosts, perhaps a pun,

Surging forward, brash and bold,
To haunt you now that you are old.
Right off, I’d say the shame’s on them,
To trouble you like cough and phlegm.

They’ve had their chance to romp and snort,
These characters, but came up short.
Something in you judged them thus
When they were young, so let them fuss

Awhile, until they tire of their rant.
Then fold them up like shirt or pant—
You know how, you’ve earned that grace—
And slide them gently back in place.

Having lived through shot and shell,
You cannot serve two tours in Hell.
Therefore, things must be looking up.
Enjoy the sun, each dawn’s new cup.

Richard Wilbur’s poem A Reckoning appeared
in the August 31, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.
My poem, as the title indicates, is a response to
Mr. Wilbur, who was kind enough to communicate
with me years ago when I first began writing
poetry in earnest. You will notice that Mr. Wilbur,
the grand old man of American poetry, at age 88,
is still young enough to blush.

I sent my reply poem to Mr. Wilbur. He wrote back,
thanking me for my “witty and well-turned” response.
He especially liked the first two lines of the final
stanza. He was a combat veteran for three years
in the European theater during World War II and penned
some of the finest verse to come out of that war.

Mr. Wilbur typed his reply on a manual machine,
by the looks of it, the same machine he has
used since the 1970s. I don’t know if he surfs
the Web or not; I provided my email address,
which he ignored in favor of the typewriter.
His mind is sharp and the keystrokes accurate.

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