Those Left Behind by Barbara F. Lefcowitz

For Jackie Robinson, W.B. Yeats, Schubert, Blake (both Eubie & William), Einstein, Christ, my mother & my Uncle Leo. . .and especially all who waved from the train stations in Vilna & Riga & Pinsk, ca. 1900

After the last wave, they walked home
turned to what they had to do:
light a flame beneath the kettle, sweep up
the snow and the crusts that got stuck in the mud,
tidy up the remnants of their century.

So I imagine all those people, known & unknown,
good & bad, who did not migrate with me
across the line between millennia.
(Let me not forget the many now living
whose calendars, Hebrew, Hindu, Mayan,
have drawn lines long ago crossed, yet to appear).

Unlike other journeys over time zones,
this one demanded no postcards, gifts, photos
for those left behind. Though what joy
were it possible to see Yeats’ response
to reels of rough beasts slouching
the hours ahead, to hear Schubert’s
reaction to hip-hop, tell Einstein
how they’ve sized-up his brain.
Dear Christ, were those centuries of sleep
really that stony; what do you think
of those who claim to be you, returned at last. . .

Did they miss the boat, all who died
before 1/1/2000, should we pity them, envy
their immunity to our fears, laugh at theirs:
ludicrous as their hats, their tight-laced
trousers, their delight as they capered down streets
sleek horses pulling their gold-embossed cabriolets,
their pride in their maps of the heavens, sun & stars
circling the earth, their doomsday predictions, dance mania,
conviction their names would not be forgotten & that
war was archaic. Or should we think of them
only rarely, as they likely thought about us?