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This poem is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

Four Poems Cliff Ashcroft

James
He was speaking of the arguments they had
and how it was beyond healing now,
and someone else's message had gone out
to the ports and cities stripped of his own word.
And I found it difficult to console him,
and learned over time that it is wrong to console;
despair is real and necessary for that man.
And even I have lived long enough to hear his name fade
into a list of dissenters without face and their books burnt.
He asked me for some water and a small leather bag
he kept in a chest in the other room.
I had to pour the water between his yellow lips.
He was too weak even to loosen the cords on the bag.
He wanted to show me something.
I was a stranger to the city then and visiting family
...


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