Old Age

Save Russia

How much should he remember?
The drowsy legacy of his uncle’s drinking?
All the blanks he had to fill in
For a New York history class,
Choices that never again
Came in fives,
Math that gave and took
Away numbers daily,
A catechism that explained
Everything useless
For a job or a parents’ fights,
Pledging allegiance
On a school playground,
The pulse of a young boy’s heart
Beating to the drum
Of a man’s rage
For innocence lost
Too soon by older guides
In their Roman collars
Mumbling prayers of hope
To “Save Russia”?

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Du Temps Perdu

He had seen, for the first time,
The top of the small hill
Lush, in its own way,
With yellow and green flowers,
Names escaping him,
Like most memories
He wished would return,
A trip to the laundromat,
A friend’s memorial service,
Familiar as the moon
He thought he remembered
Last Thursday
When he put his laundered socks
Into the top drawer
And glanced out the window,
Or was it emptying the dishwasher
After closing the kitchen window
To catch a quick glimpse
Of the moon’s cradle,
Reminding him of how
Easy it was, once,
To recall anything.

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Home Stretch

He had a choice once
Between two women,
One gnarled in office hours,
Frantic graphs, leather chairs,
Giant-eyed windows opening up
The morning to efficiency
And quarterly reports.

The other, his artist,
Tubes of paint,
Spaghetti dinners,
Spittled arguments about
Too much restraint.
“You never take any risks,”
She told him.

Twenty minutes late
To his urologist, forty years later,
A young woman in her mid-forties,
An amateur art collector,
Today, dressed in black and violet silk,
Tapping keys in front of a computer screen,
“Your PSA looks good,
Prostate’s a bit enlarged,
But no worries on that front…”

The home stretch,
Transparent still to beauty,
But open now
To the body’s failing statistics.

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Post Mortem

After Frank’s death in July,
She had stalked the moon
When it arrived
In its crescent and full phases,
Forgetting even her name
And the overdue electric bill
Still in the mailbox
From two weeks ago
Feeling, in his death,
The moon’s tempered nods
For her to dance naked,
The summer wind breathing gently
On her breasts and wrinkled arms
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Again

A kettle whistling on the stove,
Its voice rushed to the untrained ear
But to this old-habit of a man
A purring of the familiar,
This hissing welcome into the feast
Of the sun’s surprises.
In this hymn of the known
Is to hear your soft feet upon the floor
Your body moving to its own rhythm,
Your head on my aging shoulders,
Your night’s sweet whisper
Melting my desire for any new gifts,
Except this day and an album of you

 

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No Friendlier to the Secret

She was always on time
Even early,
Precision, at 85,
The last measure of character,
Something to gauge
If her son could be trusted
With the gas bill
She would ask
Him to pay
On the due date
At the grocery store
Every month.

Seasons now wearing thin,
The words of others sounding tired,
Promises like a five-minute lap dance.

Even In her prime,
Gestation, her calendar’s battle
Against things to do.

Now, closer to the other side
Of her own mortality,
No friendlier to the secret.

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God’s Imaginings

In the arched beams
Of sacramental wood,
God feels
The steady stream of the willing,
Not the rubber-band
Figures, bent, slouched
Along urine-smelling corridors,
Frail doilies
Of their former selves,
Slouched in their dumb memories
Of medicine cabinet,
Doors aching in
Their hesitancy
To speak of cures,
Doubtful anodynes
Against the curse
Of what He
Forgets to heal.

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Choices

 

He couldn’t decide
Whether he liked the mornings
Or the evenings.

The sunrise, if it did arrive,
Offered promise, another chance
To get it right,
Maybe pay the rent on time,
Prepare a statement for the bus driver
That she looked better
After her knee operation,
Keep his eye drops in
For five minutes, instead of three,
Leave cat food on the porch
For the three stray cats,
Read the headlines,
Make sure the vodka was in the freezer.

But the evenings could herald
Another finish line,
That his boss called in sick,
His ex-wife finally divorced
Her second husband,
He didn’t lose his keys,
He payed the rent,
The cats were fed,
The vodka required no ice,
He finished another chapter
Of a mystery novel,
He missed the
Eleven o’clock news,
His hips got their
Strength back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ll Fly Away

I’ll Fly Away

These mornings had more promise
Than the ones she slept through
Last year.

Today an old hymn
In her head.

“I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die”

Yes, transport herself
Through the rubble
Of another chemo treatment
Still refusing to be confused
By road maps and Triple A bus tours,
Holding a steady wheel
And a firm accelerator
On the Queen E,
Always ready for a stop
At a Tim Horton’s.

Solid grey hair and blue eyes,
Her Descartes’ luggage abandoned
For a new find
In robins and seagulls
Escorting all the power-point words
From her college notes
Through the camp of her wrinkled arms,
Her torso coming alive
Two years ago on a gurney
And a doctor’s promise
Of a few more years
Of burnished sunsets
Driving an extra pulse of a new memory
Through her thin wrists.

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Authenticity

The Arbitrariness of Life

I am not convinced that it is easy to be who we really are. Our identity scripts seem to have already been written, or are being written, by forces over which we don’t have much control.

No one, to my knowledge, has ever chosen their parents or the color of their eyes inside the womb. And no one would argue with the reality that if someone were born in a New York City condo, they have a better chance of entering Harvard or Yale than someone born in poverty.

And who can say, in middle age, they would have actually gotten married? If the answer is “yes,” who can say they know, for sure, that would be the right answer for them now? And, knowing what I now know, would I marry the person I did when I was in my twenties.

Daily Rituals and Real Intent

On a more general level, how do I know who the real me is?

I get up in the morning, take my meds, go to the bathroom, put the coffee on, cut a banana in a bowl, scan the cereals on top of the refrigerator, choose one that appeals to me that morning and pour my choice into the bowl with the cut-up banana.

That’s my morning ritual. But is that the authentic me?

I can’t do the process of elimination here. My ritual, after all, emanates from no one else but me. Its genuineness can’t be questioned, unless, of course, I wake up resenting it.

Ah, resenting it. There’s the rub.

What if I decided, one morning, that I really don’t like eating breakfast by myself, that I feel the full weight of my aloneness when I first wake up. Or that I’ve really not been true to my feelings of loneliness because I’m too afraid to admit that I don’t have the inner strength to be by myself?

This domestic narrative tells me something: I can exist on two levels.

There’s a repeated action, like washing the car, taking a shower, preparing dinner, driving to work on the Interstate. These repeated actions have a kind of inner strength to survive on their own momentum and energy. And each of these actions contain smaller actions, one leading to another, until they accumulate to a completed act.

And then there’s another kind of inner energy that accompanies these actions. Let’s give them several names: contentment, anger, resentment, frenzy, groundedness, even neutrality.

If I’m feeling content or even neutral in performing my morning ritual, I don’t question the habit I’ve developed. But if I wake up with anxiety about my ritual, maybe, just maybe, I’m in denial about its efficacy.

Maybe I really want to go out for breakfast. Maybe I really want to hang out with people in the morning. Maybe, I’m lonely. But the ritual of eating alone in the morning keeps me tied to a false self, one that is denial of his need to be with others, to be in some kind of community, not to isolate.

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