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.
It has taken 67 years, but
I have finally arrived at what
I want to do and be when I
finally grow up, which should
happen any day now, but
please don’t hold your breath.
In this modern age, there is
an ever present and growing
need for euphemists, and I
am perfectly suited for it.
Just this month I could
have offered social distancing,
not to mention those who now
must shelter in place everywhere,
and I’m working on several more,
though I may no longer have time
on my hands, lest I somehow become
collateral damage, for I know if I did
I’d have to immediately wash them.
It hardly seems all that long ago
when we were immortal, when
we measured our days by the number
of dares we undertook, each
with its own level of stupidity
which we took, mistakenly, for courage.
We are older now, we would like
to think far wiser as well, but the line
between truth and illusion is thin
and almost impossible to discern.
We now measure our days in open rooms
with small clusters of neatly arrayed chairs
and the odd table piled with magazines
that have faded with time and disuse,
occasionally a fish tank where it
is hard to tell who is less interested
we or the fish, but they, at least,
aren’t waiting for the nurse to call us,
take our vitals and say in a shocking display
of honesty, “the doctor will be with you
He is four, has been
for five months now, but
when you ask them how old
he will be at his next birthday
he doesn’t pause, says, “thirteen,”
with a smile that shouts, “yes
I know how to count quite well,
but sometimes I just choose not to!”
He is slowing down, actually,
the last week he decided he was seven
and decided he would be 27
on his next birthday.
I am certain it has nothing
at all to do with the presents
his classmate’s brother got
his Bar Mitzvah,
but there is something in the smile
of a Jewish four-year-old
that reminds even a grandfather
who long ago gave up the faith
that there is something magical
about turning thirteen despite
the ever dreaded thank you notes.