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Elliot Ray Neiderland, home from college 
one winter, hauling a load of Herefords 
from Hogtown to Guymon with a pint of 
Ezra Brooks and a copy of Rilke’s Duineser 
Elegien on the seat beside him, saw the ass-end 
of his semi gliding around in the side mirror 
as he hit ice and knew he would never live 
to see graduation or the castle at Duino.

In the hospital, head wrapped like a gift
(the nurses had stuck a bow on top), he said
four flaming angels crouched on the hood, wings 
spread so wide he couldn’t see, and then
the world collapsed. We smiled and passed a flask 
around. Little Bill and I sang Your Cheatin’ 
Heart and laughed, and then a sudden quiet 
put a hard edge on the morning and we left.

Siehe, ich lebe, Look, I’m alive, he said, 
leaping down the hospital steps. The nurses 
waved, white dresses puffed out like pigeons
in the morning breeze. We roared off in my Dodge, 
Behold, I come like a thief! he shouted to the town 
and gave his life to poetry. He lives, now, 
in the south of France. His poems arrive 
by mail, and we read them and do not understand.

© Boris Pasternak