Thomas Chatterton: 1752-1770 by Joseph Hargraves

In a dingy room in Holborn
a teenage forger dead.
Arsenic's convulsions
stopped poetry in his head.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
November 2003, 5:30 PM:
In Days Diner because of the cold.
Drinking coffee as fog
washes the windows.

The busboy sits alone in a booth
smoking a cigarette.
Curses come from the kitchen,
the waitress refills my cup,
puts down the check.

The busboy asks an old lady
if she's finished with her plate.
I notice his English accent
and think of Chatterton:

Not as Wordsworth's "Marvelous Boy,"
but dying with vomit, not iambs,
issuing from his mouth.

The waitress tells the cook
that each year there are
less family at the tables
because each year another
member passes.

She wonders who'll die next.
The busboy blows rings of smoke.
The cook says, "The thing about death-
is that we all do it."

Then a couple comes in silently,
and I see skeletons embrace
and decide to leave my coffee
for a fresh cup in a different restaurant.


connor gunton said...

This is the sort of stuff I wish I could write.

F.A. Pollard said...

It occurs to me that I’ve read more about Chatterton than I’ve read of Chatterton.

I like the fog washing the windows.

Anonymous said...

This poem expresses that mortality is a reality that we often flee from accepting. I like the juxtaposition of the past, present, and future.


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