As we walked slowly through the Forum
the Coliseum receding into the late
afternoon, the Virgins stood patiently
as befits a priestess trained to avoid
the stares of passing men, even tourists
such as we were, the columns staring
down reminding us of our youth
despite the birthdays that we celebrated
with the joy of togetherness, and
the nagging knowledge that we were
another year closer to that moment
we refuse to acknowledge, aware
always of its growing proximity.
We stare back at the Coliseum,
as the sun slides behind its walls,
and as the vendors selling all manner
of items the buyer will regret
in mid-flight home pack up for the day,
I imagine Caesar pausing in thought
then, sneering, turning his thumb down.
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.
My sister only wanted a horse
an my parents thought they could solve
that dilemma with a pony at her fifth birthday party
where she would get all the extra rides,
her friends and playmates be damned.
Like most great parental plans,
this one was doomed to failure,
and failure marched front and center
as they learned from the pony was loaded
back into the trailer and my sister
tried to tie herself to the trailer
with ribbon from her gift wrap.
She was never good with knots,
even when she died at 52, the cancer
having ravaged her one organ at a time,
but even in her waning days, she
whine to our mother that all she ever wanted
was a horse, then winked at me, staring
around her hospital room, since we both knew
there was a pony in there somewhere.
He is four, he announces
to all gathered at the extended family table
that he will be five soon, in January.
It is important that we know this
just as it is important that he sit
next to his cousin, for boys like he
should always sit next to cute girls
and sisters don’t count, everyone knows that.
Four people in his class have birthdays in January
And he tells us their names, we hoping there will be no quiz.
As I call him to get his food from the buffet
he turns to his father, and says,
“Josh, save my seat,” and smiles broadly.
He repeats this ensuring we have all heard.
When I ask him why he says Josh, not daddy,
he laughs and says, “Because it’s his name, silly,
like your name is Papa Lou, and anyway
he always calls me Charlie, not son.”
He is four today. He’s been practicing being four, so it is somewhat second nature. But he made a decision. Next year he will be five. He was going to be 27 next year, but decided that can wait another year. I asked him why he was delaying, he said, “You get better presents when you are four or five.” I confess his logic, but wonder what I should do with the tie and cardigan I bought for his next birthday?
I look at the photo,
me holding my granddaughter.
Between us we are 57 years old,
she has just celebrated
her first birthday.
In the photograph we
are both laughing hysterically,
in the photo
we are both young children.
He is still three, but he is not
easily convinced of that fact.
He says he is four, although
with that certain smirk and a wink
he admits his birthday is next week.
He says he is practicing being four
and it doesn’t seem all that hard.
He says he has gotten so good at it
that next year he is thinking
of turning twenty-seven.
His father smiles at this, imagining
all the teenage years of angst
bypassed in a single night.