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WILBUR, Richard

The Undead

Even as children they were late sleepers,

Preferring their dreams, even when quick with monsters,

To the world with all its breakable toys,

Its compacts with the dying;

From the stretched arms of withered trees

They turned, fearing contagion of the mortal,

And even under the plums of summer

Drifted like winter moons.

Secret, unfriendly, pale, possessed

Of the one wish, the thirst for mere survival,

They came, as all extremists do

In time, to a sort of grandeur:

Now, to their Balkan battlements

Above the vulgar town of their first lives,

They rise at the moon's rising. Strange

That their utter self-concern

Should, in the end, have left them selfless:

Mirrors fail to perceive them as they float

Through the great hall and up the staircase;

Nor are the cobwebs broken.

Into the pallid night emerging,

Wrapped in their flapping capes, routinely maddened

By a wolf's cry, they stand for a moment

Stoking the mind's eye

With lewd thoughts of the pressed flowers

And bric-a-brac of rooms with something to lose,--

Of love-dismembered dolls, and children

Buried in quilted sleep.

Then they are off in a negative frenzy,

Their black shapes cropped into sudden bats

That swarm, burst, and are gone. Thinking

Of a thrush cold in the leaves

Who has sung his few summers truly,

Or an old scholar resting his eyes at last,

We cannot be much impressed with vampires,

Colorful though they are;

Nevertheless, their pain is real,

and requires our pity. Think how sad it must be

To thirst always for a scorned elixir,

The salt quotidian blood

Which, if mistrusted, has no savor;

To prey on life forever and not possess it,

As rock-hollows, tide after tide,

Glassily strand the sea.

The Death of a Toad

A toad the power mower caught,

Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got

To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him

Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade

Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,

Low, and a final glade.

The rare original heartsblood goes,

Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows

In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies

As still as if he would return to stone,

And soundlessly attending, dies

Toward some deep monotone

Toward misted and ebullient seas

And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia's emperies.

Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone

In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear

To watch, across the castrate lawn,

The haggard daylight steer.