Robert Lowell

Here you will find the Long Poem My Last Afternoon With Uncle Devereux Winslow of poet Robert Lowell

My Last Afternoon With Uncle Devereux Winslow

1922: the stone porch of my Grandfather?s summer house

?I won?t go with you. I want to stay with Grandpa!? 
That?s how I threw cold water 
on my Mother and Father?s 
watery martini pipe dreams at Sunday dinner. 
... Fontainebleau, Mattapoisett, Puget Sound.... 
Nowhere was anywhere after a summer 
at my Grandfather?s farm. 
Diamond-pointed, athirst and Norman, 
its alley of poplars 
paraded from Grandmother?s rose garden 
to a scary stand of virgin pine, 
scrub, and paths forever pioneering. 

One afternoon in 1922, 
I sat on the stone porch, looking through 
screens as black-grained as drifting coal. 
Tockytock, tockytock 
clumped our Alpine, Edwardian cuckoo clock, 
slung with strangled, wooden game. 
Our farmer was cementing a root-house under the hill. 
One of my hands was cool on a pile 
of black earth, the other warm 
on a pile of lime. All about me 

were the works of my Grandfather?s hands: 
snapshots of his Liberty Bell silver mine; 
his high school at Stuttgart am Neckar; 
stogie-brown beams; fools?-gold nuggets; 
octagonal red tiles, 
sweaty with a secret dank, crummy with ant-stale; 
a Rocky Mountain chaise longue, 
its legs, shellacked saplings. 
A pastel-pale Huckleberry Finn 
fished with a broom straw in a basin 
hollowed out of a millstone. 
Like my Grandfather, the décor 
was manly, comfortable, 
overbearing, disproportioned. 

What were those sunflowers? Pumpkins floating shoulder-high? 
It was sunset, Sadie and Nellie 
bearing pitchers of ice-tea, 
oranges, lemons, mint, and peppermints, 
and the jug of shandygaff, 
which Grandpa made by blending half and half 
yeasty, wheezing homemade sarsaparilla with beer. 
The farm, entitled Char-de-sa 
in the Social Register, 
was named for my Grandfather?s children: 
Charlotte, Devereux, and Sarah. 
No one had died there in my lifetime ... 
Only Cinder, our Scottie puppy 
paralyzed from gobbling toads. 
I sat mixing black earth and lime. 

I was five and a half. 
My formal pearl gray shorts 
had been worn for three minutes. 
My perfection was the Olympian 
poise of my models in the imperishable autumn 
display windows 
of Rogers Peet?s boys? store below the State House 
in Boston. Distorting drops of water 
pinpricked my face in the basin?s mirror. 
I was a stuffed toucan 
with a bibulous, multicolored beak. 

Up in the air 
by the lakeview window in the billiards-room, 
lurid in the doldrums of the sunset hour, 
my Great Aunt Sarah 
was learning Samson and Delilah. 
She thundered on the keyboard of her dummy piano, 
with gauze curtains like a boudoir table, 
accordionlike yet soundless. 
It had been bought to spare the nerves 
of my Grandmother, 
tone-deaf, quick as a cricket, 
now needing a fourth for ?Auction,? 
and casting a thirsty eye 
on Aunt Sarah, risen like the phoenix 
from her bed of troublesome snacks and Tauchnitz classics. 

Forty years earlier, 
twenty, auburn headed, 
grasshopper notes of genius! 
Family gossip says Aunt Sarah 
tilted her archaic Athenian nose 
and jilted an Astor. 
Each morning she practiced 
on the grand piano at Symphony Hall, 
deathlike in the off-season summer? 
its naked Greek statues draped with purple 
like the saints in Holy Week.... 
On the recital day, she failed to appear. 

I picked with a clean finger nail at the blue anchor 
on my sailor blouse washed white as a spinnaker. 
What in the world was I wishing? 
... A sail-colored horse browsing in the bullrushes ... 
A fluff of the west wind puffing 
my blouse, kiting me over our seven chimneys, 
troubling the waters.... 
As small as sapphires were the ponds: Quittacus, Snippituit, 
and Assawompset, halved by ?the Island,? 
where my Uncle?s duck blind 
floated in a barrage of smoke-clouds. 
Double-barreled shotguns 
stuck out like bundles of baby crow-bars. 
A single sculler in a camouflaged kayak 
was quacking to the decoys.... 

At the cabin between the waters, 
the nearest windows were already boarded. 
Uncle Devereux was closing camp for the winter. 
As if posed for ?the engagement photograph,? 
he was wearing his severe 
war-uniform of a volunteer Canadian officer. 
Daylight from the doorway riddled his student posters, 
tacked helter-skelter on walls as raw as a boardwalk. 
Mr. Punch, a water melon in hockey tights, 
was tossing off a decanter of Scotch. 
La Belle France in a red, white and blue toga 
was accepting the arm of her ?protector,? 
the ingenu and porcine Edward VII. 
The pre-war music hall belles 
had goose necks, glorious signatures, beauty-moles, 
and coils of hair like rooster tails. 
The fines