Waving Goodbye

A Poem by Wesley McNair

Our final selection from the poetry books of Black Sparrow Books and David R. Godine, Publisher is a poem by Wesley McNair, from the forthcoming collection entitled Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems, available in late May 2010. We’re grateful to Black Sparrow Books and David R. Godine, Publisher for sharing their wonderful wares with us this past week. Next week, we’ll be sampling verse published by City Lights.

Waving Goodbye


Why, when we say goodbye

at the end of an evening, do we deny

we were saying it at all, as in We’ll

be seeing you, or I’ll call, or Stop in,

somebody’s always at home? Meanwhile, our friends,

telling us the same things, go on disappearing

beyond the porch light into the space

which except for a moment here or there

is always between us, no matter what we do.

Waving goodbye, of course, is what happens

when the space gets too large

for words – a gesture so innocent

and lonely, it could make a person weep

for days. Think of the hundreds of unknown

voyagers in the old, fluttering newsreel

patting and stroking the growing distance

between their nameless ship and the port

they are leaving, as if to promise I’ll always

remember, and just as urgently, Always

remember me. Is it loneliness, too,

that makes the neighbor down the road lift

two fingers up from his steering wheel as he passes

day after day on his way to work in the hello

that turns into goodbye? What can our own raised

fingers do for him, locked in his masculine

purposes and speeding away inside the glass?

How can our waving wipe away the reflex

so deep in the woman next door to smile

and wave on her way into her house with the mail,

we’ll never know if she is happy

or sad or lost? It can’t. Yet in that moment

before she and all the others and we ourselves

turn back to our disparate lives, how

extraordinary it is that we make this small flag

with our hands to show the closeness we wish for

in spite of what pulls us apart again

and again: the porch light snapping off,

the car picking its way down the road through the dark.

Wesley McNair, “Waving Goodbye” from Lovers of the Lost: New & Selected Poems. Copyright © (2010) by Wesley McNair.

Reprinted with the permission of David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston. www.godine.com