In Memoriam: Gordon Dunham

Scarcely twenty years ago, amazed,
we saw the way you played defense, attack,
and deftly wove, across a table glazed
with lac­quer, over squares of white and black,
your bril­lian­cies at fifty cents a game.

Armed with your own invented tools of math,
‘sub­jec­tive prob­a­bil­i­ties,’ you came
rac­ing upward on the cor­po­rate path.
As if another Hal­lam, though untaught,
you won the won­der and pro­found regard
of pres­i­dents and chair­men; and you caught
with gen­tle grace in every deed and word,
the hearts of all of us who worked with you.

It seemed there were no goals beyond your reach;
your sci­ence saw the future clear; you knew
the mys­ter­ies of chance, the price of each
insur­ance risk we took; but even you
could not fore­tell a truck would lean and fall
to crush your wife, inside her pass­ing car,
and both your chil­dren. With their going all
your light, your morn­ing moon and dou­ble star,
went out. You lin­gered daily in the dim
saloon down­stairs, two brandies on the bar
before you; burned your suits and ties, wore slim
and faded levis at your desk. Your hair
and beard grew long, so gray and so untrimmed
we saw a sad Walt Whit­man sit­ting there.

At last the pow­ers read your pur­pose right:
you left your title, office, and uptown
apart­ment; took the street, slept where you might,
played chess for wagers, win­ning new renown
among the denizens of cheap cafes.
For then you knew, by prob­a­bil­i­ties,
and by the fog your check­mates could not raise,
how soon your longed-for dying would dis­place
your being’s bur­den and your soul’s unease.

For­give me if to save your trea­sured name
I name with it these verses, which I know
have lit­tle chance of bring­ing you the fame
you should have won had chance not brought you low.

Wiley Clements has had work in Per Con­tra Spring and The New For­mal­ist. A full-length col­lec­tion of his poems, enti­tled Yes­ter­day, or Long Ago, was pub­lished in 2004. He lives in Lewis­burg, Pennsylvania.