It was a strange day when Ernest Hemingway first appeared:
waiting for me out in the garden
and looking not quite so old and lost
as he did in all those Time magazine photographs
which were taken before he called it quits.
And the first thing he asked, as if he already knew my name
was: ‘Have you ever been to Ketchum?’
but I told him that I had not, yet I knew the town
because that was where he decided
to put the shotgun in his mouth.
‘But by then I was spent and receding like dust into Wood River,’ he replied
and for a moment I saw something stir in his face
as if a memory of what had gone before had returned,
so for a while I shared in his silence, until he asked:
‘Have you ever been to war and loved and lost?’
So now I admitted that I had never lived such a life
which could have led me to seeing all the ills of the world
where men and nations are broken and torn;
nor had I ever kept so close and warm a love
only to watch it wash away like cold, bitter rain.
‘Then you are more lost than I, Fitzgerald or Stein’
and with these words he opened his hand to reveal a hook:
‘This belonged to a time when I caught marlin in a great fishing boat
down in the Gulf Stream with my friend Gutierrez’
and it was then that I understood all his anguish and sorrow.
For the only thing left to this man was his pain,
that for all he had done, it could not be remade;
no mountains or battles; lovers or hunts
or trips to Pamplona to watch the matadors fight;
no Gellhorn or Cuba; no Paris, no books.
And before he disappeared from sight, I realised at last
that Hemingway was a warning for all that awaited,
for the only heart to follow was that of my own
and he delivered the truth in the garden that day:
‘to live for yourself or face the finality of the gun’.