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For Richard Turner - Peter Sacks

You wrote on the back page

of my last essay ("Political

Education in The Republic")

"Good ideas, but style

too literary. Use of images

evades the final point."

When I left,

you thought me still evasive,

trying to pass off

my own fear of suffering

as a form of wisdom.

I'd said, "There's nothing left

for us, not even martyrdom."

You smiled:

"At least stick to political

philosophy. Remember,

literature's too easy.'

You'd smile again to see me

seven years later,

wintering in Florida

between a set of eighteenth-

century novels and the sea.

A morning swim,

a day of marginalia,

lazy ambles on the shore

in the late afternoon;

eight thousand miles

from where, last night

a little after twelve,

a gunman called you to the door.

This morning, when I came in

from the beach, a neighbor asked,

"You're from South Africa,

did you catch the news

about a doctor killed there,

Richard Tanner; the name

mean anything to you?"

So rapid the flood of it

not medical doctor, Turner,

Richard, you. And the voice

from somewhere in the sudden

darkness, "Yes, Turner.

Did I upset you?"-

the premonition

must have gathered here for years.

You sat among us on the floor

translating Althusser,

always barefoot,

jeans, a pale blue shirt,

your black-rimmed lenses doubling

the light, the red shock of your hair.

At some slight turn of argument

your freckled hands followed

the actual phrasing in the air.

"I know it's difficult in this country,

but we've got to think more clearly

than the State allows."

Three years later, you were banned;

neither to be published

nor quoted in any form.

Forbidden to teach.

Long after midnight,

walking through the pines

into a thin sea wind,

startled as each line of water

shatters in the dark,

I half-prepare to meet you

further up the shore;

as though your dying meant

they'd only driven you out

to lead a half-life

here in the wind, this walk

between the water and pines

of another country.


Richard, if I keep to words,

believing nothing in our history

will make this right,

will what I say at last

be difficult enough

for you?