"None But the Lonely Heart"

He used to sing it as a boy, Goethe's heartsick lines,
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt,
Weiss was ich leide . . .

Romance was not two people in love,
or falling there; it was one person,
who had had his chance at love and lost it —
mostly through carelessness that passed as bad luck.

Now the old tune swells again
at the oddest hours — Sunday evening, say,
the house still trammeled by trappings of love
like children's height-marks on the wall.
His wife's around, at a neighbor's perhaps,
but something in how the leftover light
muddles among the table legs and the long lament
of a frigidaire about to die
can set it off, a vague humming:
Hmmm, hm-hmm hm hmmm hm-hmmm. . .

Nothing romantic about it:
the failure of love to sustain itself
when no one is paying attention,
one poem less each year.
The best he can hope for is conversations
into the night, one voice more slightly edged
than the other, murmuring
toward sleep, as it comes on gently.

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