“As you get older,” he said,
“the body grows remarkably
adept at telling you when
you have done too much,
or done something you shouldn’t.”
What he didn’t say, the critical
piece of advice I wish I heard,
is that the body only speaks
well after the fact, a lecture
surely, but never a warning.
No one wants to go a step
short, to miss whatever mark
someone randomly established,
but the price of a step too far
is high and often long lasting.
My back sat me down this
morning , and with that smirk
told me the lifting yesterday
could be paid for over a week,
and my arthritic knees nodded.
I wrote a poem for my father,
about how one afternoon
the oddly green ’57 Caddy
appeared in the driveway
and he polished its chrome for hours,
even waxed the black bumper bullets.
It was the love of his life
he said, except for his wife,
he added after a moment.
The years would prove
that addition was most likely false.
I could send him the poem, he
might actually read it, he would
remember the Caddy, much
as he now remembers my mother, with
a fondness that fills the voids
in his fading memory.
He is not much for poetry, never was,
wasn’t all that much for reading
and poetry had to rhyme, at
least the good ones did, but
while he agrees with Hecht, he would
no more recognize that name
than that of Amichai, even rewritten
in the grating hand of Ted Hughes.
My father does not understand poetry,
does not understand all that much
these days and what little he does
bears constant repetition, and yet
he remembers well odd bits and pieces
and forms them into his own fictions
that become momentary realities.
He is Brodsky rewriting Mandelstam,
a new Tristia, sharing only a name
with its precursor, but one its author
claims is truest to its origin.
My poem will be tucked away
inside a yellowing journal, his Caddy
is rust and scrap, but in his dreams
he carefully polishes the chrome
and waxes the bumper bullets.
First appeared in The Alchemy Spoon, Issue 1, Summer 2020
He awoke this morning, and was
surprised to be there, he said,
because when you are ninety,
and can’t get around at all,
you don’t look forward to tomorrow,
for it will simply be a repeat
of today when nothing will happen.
And it is harder still, he says,
because he can’t remember much anymore,
so it’s hard to say if today
is any different than a week ago
or a month ago, though they say
he was in the hospital then,
but he don’t know why he was there.
When I stop for a visit the next day
his is surprised to be there, he says
as though it was a new thought
that just came to him in the moment.
I have two mothers, now both dead,
I have three fathers, one unknown, one buried
outside Washington and one lost
in a corner of his shrinking mind.
I am growing older, I have aches
and clicks and pops and groans,
which each remind me that I
am aware and alive and that
isn’t a bad way to start a new day.
It should be more of a surprise,
on this day that you turn ninety
but the mirror, as you see it,
has you looking as you did twenty
two years earlier, and twenty
before that, unchanging in any
meaningful way, yet those
around you laugh when you
tell them what you believe.
Not a day over sixty-eight
you say, and time to go off
and write for an hour, then
the three mile walk, a shower,
some physical therapy for . . .
well one of the joints which
has osteoarthritis, and a salad,
heavy on the greens for lunch.
Nothing much has changed
in your mind, and when
you awaken from the dream,
see your sixty-eight year old
face in the mirror, you only
wish you could see the younger
face that only dreams allow,
but time outside of dreams is
always, unfortunately, unforgiving.
The old man peers at the yellowing book
then places it on the arm of the chair.
He gives the walker a sad, angry look,
and still struggling, looks up in mocking prayer.
Clutching the book, he limps to the table
and sinks onto the chair, risking a fall
that could reshatter his hip. Unable
to hear, he shouts to his wife, down the hall,
who brings the hearing aid and his glasses.
His eyes glow as the ancient words bring fire
to his voice, arms dance as though his class is
full of young minds that are his to inspire.
He settles into the chair, bent by age
and curses his body, now more a cage.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)
I mean, seriously, did anyone really think that the Spratt marriage would ultimately last? Sure, the first couple of years were imagined bliss. And sure, their dietary desires did help them avoid almost all waste. But that big a difference, even if only seemingly in eating habits, foretells differences in other areas of life. He was a neatnik, she not so much. He didn’t mind, originally picking up after her, but after a dozen years, let’s face it, it got old. And she was tired of his comments about her diet. Sure, she had put on a few pounds of late, but that was part of aging. And really, she didn’t look that bad, not old and shrunken like he did. People in glass houses and all of that. And she was on the damned Keto diet, so at least she was trying. She knew it could not go on, so she reached out to an attorney. And it was the attorneys who picked their carcasses clean.
My back bemoans its age,
knowing the alternative
is far worse, and as
we limp along, we await
the call to attend
the unveiling of the resonance
images which draw us in
and will, in short order
if, even, there is no answer
no underlying truth
and certain it will not find
the simple alignment
that eludes us and
we will continue to share
our abiding pain.
They are arranged like so much
ill-stacked cordwood, pressed against
walls that are indifferent to their presence.
They watch the double doors leading
to the examining rooms with trepidation,
wanting to be next, wanting more
not to be here at all, knowing that
the options are none or fewer.
He isn’t bothered by it all, this is
old hat to him, he knows them
and several of them know him by name.
He will no doubt be here again
and that does not worry him, for here
he knows he will walk in and walk out,
and too many of the alternatives are
far less pleasant, some he is certain
involve simple pine boxes or ceramic urns
suitable for a mantle, but none
of his family have fireplaces, and he
would hate to get lost for eternity amid
the toys and tchotchkes that so
utterly define their lives and homes.
While others continue to stare
at the doors, he hears his long
dead grandmother whispering to him,
“remember, pain is God’s gentle way
of reminding you you’re still alive.
It has been said, wisely,
that all children speak
a common language,
regardless of what adults
believe they are hearing.
The proof of that proposition
is simple enough, pause
and watch a parent make
demands of a child
in the presence
of other children, see
the reluctant child glance
at his foreign peers and gain
silent and instant affirmation
of adult unreasonableness.
When do we cease
being able to communicate
without words, in that
language of childhood
that is at once universal
and capable of silence.