Czeslaw Milosz, “Elegy for Y. Z.”

Never forget that you are a son of the King.  — Martin Buber

A year after your death, dear Y.Z.,
I flew from Houston to San Francisco
And remembered our meeting on Third Avenue
When we took such a liking to each other.
You told me then that as a child you had never seen a forest,
Only a brick wall outside a window,
And I felt sorry for you because
So much disinheritance is our portion.
If you were the king’s daughter, you didn’t know it.
No fatherland with a castle at the meeting of two rivers,
No procession in June in the blue smoke of incense.
You were humble and did not ask questions.
You shrugged: who after all am I
To walk in splendor wearing a myrtle wreath?
Fleshly, woundable, pitiable, ironic,
You went with men casually, out of unconcern,
And smoked as if you were courting cancer.
I knew your dream: to have a home
With curtains and a flower to be watered in the morning.
That dream was to come true, to no avail.
And our past moment: the mating of birds
Without intent, reflection, nearly airborne
Over the splendor of autumn dogwoods and maples;
Even in our memory it left hardly a trace.
I am grateful, for I learned something from you,
Though I haven’t been able to capture it in words:
On this earth, where there is no palm and no scepter,
Under a sky that rolls up like a tent,
Some compassion for us people, some goodness
And, simply, tenderness, dear Y. Z.

P.S. Really I am more concerned than words would indicate.
I perform a pitiful rite for all of us.
I would like everyone to know they are the king’s children
And to be sure of their immortal souls,
I.e., to believe that what is most their own is imperishable
And persists like the things they touch,
Now seen by me beyond time’s border:
Her comb, her tube of cream, and her lipstick
On an extramundane table.