Fair enough, we brought them
      to the Rodin Museum
            to visit the Gates of Hell,

so they invited us to the catacombs,
      a place we’d never thought of touring,
            but who better to lead us

past the sign proclaiming, Stop,
      You are Entering the Empire
            of Death! than our grown children?

Almost alone among the six million
      anonymous dead, the quarryman
            Francois Décure is remembered,

and not for how he performed his day job,
      or how he cared for his wife
            or any offspring he may have had,

but for what he did in the mines
      on his lunch breaks,
            which was to chip away at memory

and carve a limestone tableau
      of a Minorcan fortress, recreating the view
            from his former prison window:

parapets and towers, bridges, stairs
      and ramparts still bloom like a night garden
            beneath the streets of Paris.

Soldier, prisoner, quarryman—
      almost nothing in his life resembles mine,
            except for all those lunch breaks

I took on night shift decades ago,
      climbing out a fourth floor window
            onto the slanting hospital roof

where I could perch against a gable
      and write. All that summer
            I filled a notebook—nighthawks

harrowed the air, the Cumberlands
      slept uneasily in the east,
            my wife and children

in the apartment across the road
      floated above their beds,
            and beneath me

in the hospital, someone
      was setting off to the realm
            of the dead, someone else

was arriving amidst obscenities
      and pleas, and having only
            a half hour each night,

I scribbled as fast as I could,
      I tried to get everything down.
            And failed, of course,

and then lost even that—
      as my wife’s granny said
            Three moves are as good as a fire.

I have only the memory of opening
      a window and stooping through it,
            of walking the heights

to my favorite spot, then starting to write
      as silent hospital shoes braced
            myself against the sloping roof.