Cover design by Toni Ellis, from a photograph by Resurreccion Frink. Copyright © 1997 by William Meredith. Used by permission of Northwestern University Press and William Meredith.

TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1997
Dedication: To Richard Harteis and Michael Collier

For the past 45 years [Meredith] has looked generously and hard at our common human world ... William Meredith's work suggests that we can recognize the hardest truths about ourselves and still live in the world.

    -The New York Times Book Review

The human model of what a poet could be is what I always encounter in the work and person of William Meredith.

    -Michael Collier, in his Introduction.

For Muriel Rukeyser

Climbing the stairway gray with urban midnight,
Cheerful, venial, ruminating pleasure,
Darkness takes me, an arm around my throat and
Give me your wallet.

Fearing cowardice more than other terrors,
Angry I wrestle with my unseen partner,
Caught in a ritual not of our making,
panting like spaniels.

Bold with adrenaline, mindless, shaking,
God damn it, no! I rasp at him behind me,
Wrenching the leather from his grasp. It
breaks like a wishbone,

So that departing (routed by my shouting,
not by my strength or inadvertent courage)
Half the papers lending me a name are
gone with him nameless.

Only now turning, I see a tall boy running,
Fifteen, sixteen, dressed thinly for the weather.
Reaching the streetlight he turns a brown face briefly
phrased like a question.

I like a questioner watch him turn the corner
Taking the answer with him, or his half of it.
Loneliness, not a sensible emotion,
breathes hard on the stairway.

Walking homeward I fraternize with shadows,
Zigzagging with them where they flee the streetlights,
Asking for trouble, asking for the message
trouble had sent me.

All fall down has been scribbled on the street in
Garbage and excrement: so much for the vision
Others taunt me with, my untimely humor,
so much for cheerfulness.

Next time don't wrangle, give the boy the money,
Call across chasms what the world you know is.
Luckless and lied to, how can a child master
human decorum?

Next time a switchblade, somewhere he is thinking,
I should have killed him and took the lousy wallet.
Reading my cards he feels a surge of anger
blind as my shame.

Error from Babel mutters in the places,
Cities apart, where now we word our failures:
Hatred and guilt have left us without language
that might have led to discourse

Reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright © by William Meredith. All rights reserved, used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.

Other poems from Effort At Speech...

To Effort at Speech (bilingual edition)...