They heard that he took a train to the city…
They heard that he stepped blinking into a crowd at the
station, where he promptly mingled and was lost.
They say that he hasn’t been seen since, and
that dust is settling on his books.
For a few years there
were false sightings.
A visitor to the city thought they saw him from a
passing bus window or across a busy city street.
And for a time they looked and
squinted and tried to see.
In the City of the Dead they say you must wait
until the last person on earth forgets your name.
And every year in the city those with horns, and tails,
and fins, step from buses or emerge blinking from taxicabs.
The city opens its arms and they
fade into the cavernous streets.
In the City of the Dead you can wander forever
and never tread the same street twice.
There is always slow piano music
drifting through an open window.
In the City of the Dead they are always
watching the gray sky roll by.
Waiting for the last person they knew
to forget their names.
Listening on street corners
for their new names to be spoken.
—Excerpt from “Epitaph” by Keith Woo, as it appears in “The Heavy Work of Vanishing: The Collected Poetry of Keith Woo,” edited by Pi’ilani Kilani, page 260.