The Death of Clive James has been Postponed Again

May 24, 2018

“It’s quite restful. I sit there all afternoon. I can read a book, and even write something, while they pump in stuff through a tube.” —C.J.

The death of Clive James has been postponed again,
And I am non-plussed,
If not unprepared: I’ve phoned ahead
To the Clive James Literary Trust
And skyped twice with Franco Moretti
Regarding a Clive James Memorial
To be built in Kogorah, Sydney
Out of James’s corpus’s confetti,
(A sort of antipodean El Escorial.)
Next year I’ll host Jacobean Thunder at the Getty,
In honor of our dearly belated.
Next year, that is, if he’s been trussed
And plundered. I’m glued to my cell:
Will no one take this wonder from down under under?
 
The death of Clive James has been postponed
So many times his real names—
Vivian Leopold—have gone retroviral.
(Like James, they explain nearly everything.)
So all the children sing, and elegies pile up on my shelf
(A second shelf for those James writes himself):
Sadder before the pharmaceutical abuse,
Gladder after the cocktail he can’t refuse
(Though it induces multicultural amnesia),
A mix of antibody suppressants and interviews.
James has the two subjects in his long death spiral,
“Twa corbies,” plus two alternates: Sex and Brexit.
Bless him who writes the verse of his own exit!
(As long as The Great Editor rejects it.)
 
But now that James’s Dante has shown beyond doubt
Nothing is inevitable,
Now that journalists from six continents
Have quizzed him on four of the five stages
(And translated his grief into Esperanto),
Now that James must be forgiven
Not only for Edward Pygge (and other stooges)
But for what he did to Hell, to Purgatory, and to Heaven
(For failing to quarantine his quatrained cantos),
Must we attend James’s every curtain call
Or will the ironic curtain finally fall?


The death of Clive James was postponed in 1983
By a case of early onset immortality
When he sang the book of his enemy
In the LRB, and I still twist and shout.
Fifteen years ago my Crucible was laid out
In remainder, between tall cairns of Bly’s
and Billy Collins’s. I need no reminder.
When it rose again on Amazon, and Powell’s,
First at ten bucks, then five, then 99¢
Plus shipping, I reread James’s paean
And knew again it’s singing that makes me glad,
Not selling, and not wishing I had,
And not pretending that song cannot cause pain,
Or that a swan’s song can’t be bad.
If the death of Clive James is postponed again,
I will be sad.

After Clive James's "The Book of My Enemy has been Remaindered"