Tag Archives: aging

Older And In Costume

Older and in costume
I parade up and down because I know
this will make a difference

in how I feel about
how I am seen from here on in.
It’s possible that no one

will see me anyway
no matter how I am 
dressed or arrayed

but as a slowly vanishing
man, I must take
all the chance I can to be 

visible. Even if no one
notices, I notice. Even
if I am ridiculous,

I shall vibrate inside
knowing I chose such
silliness. Even if I 

were to in fact 
disappear from here
leaving the costume 

empty in the aisle
before all present,
I will go knowing

I took this chance to
feel alive, saturated
with nonsense, joyful

as a true clown,
unafraid, saying to all:
This.  I am this

as much as I am anything
else you know of me and
it’s as much a part of me

as what you’ve always 
known, even if you have not
seen it till now. I am this

and that too. While I do not 
and have never contained
multitudes, I was more

than you knew and even
more than I knew. Older and in 
costume, I can see that now.

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Make A Muscle

Make a muscle,
some uncle would say,
and you’d pop up an arm,
pump up a bicep for them
to squeeze.  Big boy, getting
stronger, they’d say.
You would be pleased and 
secretly you’d do this to yourself
whenever you could — cock that 
arm like Popeye and test the
rock under the skin.

There were times
where you’d work at getting huge
but then came all that pubescence and
things started happening in your head,
voices about how poorly your muscles
did in most things, urgings to stay
small before the bully radar,

and nothing happened with that
muscle plan.  You got thick and dull
and became more head-strong
and less body strong

and compensated with weapons
and wit for long decades to follow

and now you’re nearly sixty
and if you make a muscle in
your stroke arm, only you will know;
if you make a muscle
in your stronger arm, it would show
but not much. 

You’re nearly sixty
and if you make a muscle in public
someone 
may laugh at you,
perhaps with fondness,

perhaps not.  Big boy, you’re still
so strong, someone might say,
and it will remind you
that all your beloved uncles

are long underground.

In secret you roll up a sleeve.
You’re fourteen again but
there are no bullies left
except the mirror
so you make a muscle
and whisper see, see?
See how big I am getting?  


Thinking Ahead

If today were to be
the day, 

it would be good
to close things out
as a white muzzled dog
lying on a couch
below a window full 
of lemon light,

but if that’s not to be
for me, then I want
my own departure
to offer something
that makes such peace
available to all, to more
than those who had it 
before I came here. 

When I go I want
my eyes to shut
slowly as I release
the final breath and
let that air carry
my memory off
to the unknown.

If it is not to be
that I fall in such
serenity? Then let
the violence pull me
down, let me take it
with me, let it sink away
from view as I sink away
from view.

What I think I want
the most from my death
is that it should mean something
for the deaths that follow mine —

that it may ease passage,
end suffering, shut down
as much inflicted pain
as possible — that it may
offer in its finality
the same comfort as is found
in the thick fur of the old dog
sleeping deeply in the sun,
waiting for waiting to end.


Beyond Expectation

Because I did not expect 
to live this long,
I have over the years
sold and tossed 
and given away
many things I loved, telling myself
that doing so 

was a way of ensuring
that I might be of some use
as a conduit for certain cherished things
to end up in righteous
and deserving hands. 

Then I did live this long,
far beyond expectation,
and now my hands 
are as empty as I am.

This is not a song of mourning,
not a self-pity song;
this is how we face the stripping away
of illusion at the close of day,
how we sunset when it’s time for dusk.

In the early days of knowing
I would not live long, I was free
and giddy as I shed
guitars and clothes and hats
and all those hours
of recorded music, all those
books, all those things
I’d loved, saying they were in me
now and no one could take them
from me.

Then I lived long
and now I am as empty as my hands;
so much sucked away, so much
drained from me by rough use
and diminishing returns. 

This is not a song of mourning,
not a self-pity song.
This is how we close our eyes
and see how hard the truth is,
how at once loaded and light it is.

What am I supposed to do now 
in such an empty space
if I want to stop existing at last?
Stick this truth in my mouth
and pull on some bitter little fact
like a trigger? 

Not at all: I’m going to sit here

with my empty hands
outstretched and see what,
if anything, falls into them
from above. Wait for the void
to take effect. See if my
remaining possessions 
flee me screaming,
leave quietly, or are taken
one by one into the light.


The Smell Of Blood In The Water

I’m 
of less and less
value
to those 

I love

as I move deeper into
my lifespan

My brain
Full of holes
My ears 
more or less
stoppered
I don’t know 
how to explain
the kinks 
in my heart 

other than to say
they hurt more
than just me

My pockets
so empty and they
don’t hold water or
a clue about how 
to fill them up
again

and there’s a 
lacking 
under my clothes
I can’t seem to fix

but I still love
and in dark moments

my skin moves with that
like the sea

I once dived into 
a night ocean
lit by a thin
moon

Swam afraid under
thin clouds wondering

what would come up
unseen and kill me

It is much like
that these
days

I feel love
and fear for those
watching me
from the beach

No need for them
to see me jerk and
sink abruptly
or bleed out shaking
in some huge mouth

But I came back to shore
laughing to them that
I’d dodged one

They turn from me
now as they should
knowing I’ve dodged 
nothing as

I shake in 
such jaws as these
that have me now

and the smell of blood’s
in the water

 


Limit

I’ve lost my appetite
for having an appetite.

If pieces of your life die
and you die a little with each death

how much do you have to lose
before you are no more?

I’m thinking not many, 
not for me at least.  I’m thinking

all the little losses were just 
needles reminding me of the first cut

and I’ve lost the desire for desire
as a result.  I’ve got no sense

that being alive
requires more of me

than existing does.
What does it matter

if I covet better
experiences, more justice,

less anguish
for myself and others

in an anguished world? Those
are on the other side

of a universe I can’t imagine,
a system in the sky I cannot

grasp. I only pretend to
because someone out there

hasn’t died as much as I have,
not yet.  They haven’t reached

my limit. They haven’t 
had their eyes go dark

and their longing
fossilize.


Uncle

My uncle,
who long ago handed over to me
his ancient Hohner Chromonica,
with whom I talked jazz
as a kid, with whom
I often spoke at length
concerning
the Marine knife from 
WWII with his initials 
on the sheath that now
sits in a cubby
next to my bed,

is now in twilight
after a brain bleed.

I look through a box of CDs
they’ve put in the hospital room
next to a small boombox labeled
“Compassionate Care.”  

Into the player 
goes Dinah Washington;
into the room goes
the voice.

Everyone here is 
old — all of us, all
my family gathered round, 
all of us in some way
damaged by age —

in the air,

“What a Difference
A Day Makes,” 

as each of us thinks
about tomorrow.


Worms

The earth in the front yard’s 
worm-broken as always
after the rain.

So many castings on the surface,
thick red threads squirming
on the sidewalk.

I still don’t understand 
how anything lives here,
myself least of all,

but I do, and they do.
They seem in fact
to thrive somehow.

I don’t, not at all.
I’d go so far as to say
I’m bad at living; 

worse at it than
these worms are,
anyway.

It’s odd
how it happens
that one can end up

envying worms. I hope
some nice ones eat me
when I die. I know 

it’s not worms like these
I should be counting on
for that. These worms

aren’t the right type.
These worms look like
survivors, like they’d know

that you are what you eat.
That’s a good enough reason
for them to avoid me.

It’s raining, I’m waiting to die,
worms have come up from the wet
all over the yard, and I’m watching 

them from the window. If you need
anything beyond this
to understand me, be like the worms:

steer clear.

 

 


My Morning Thing

I woke up for once feeling 
pretty good and that meant
all the usual pain was barely
mentionable and I thought
I might have had one decent
dream to try and recreate

but none of that lasted long.

I did the morning thing: got up,
put out the trash, fed the pets,
tried not to wake up the house,
had fifty more thoughts about 

creating a better world, tried to
translate them from the language
my dream head speaks to 
English, failed and failed
and failed, dared to read

the news, read the comments,
became the comments, held back
from commenting and then 
the pain of this age rushed in 
like water through a breached levee,
flood in the form of questions: 

it’s really not going to be all right,
is it? I won’t see a better future or
world no matter what I do, will I?
It’s not personal, is it? It’s not about
me or anything at all to do with me, is it?

I took my worn drenched self back to bed.
I took a long time falling back to sleep
because that’s my morning thing: buying
into an illusion, 
working, sagging,
slipping, drowning — 

all before the first cup of coffee. 


How To Be An Aging Poet

This voice is getting old
as are the lungs that drive it.

I want it to come alive with roses
firing from my tongue and 
seem to spit nothing
but autumn leaves. 

Do you feel any softness
or new growth 
in anything I say?
In fact, I’m likely reaching a point

of speaking nothing but stone talk.
I don’t know yet
if these will be sling stones shaped
to fly at Goliath, or gravestones seeking
a hole to mark, newly-turned earth
in which to settle.

I’m resigned to how little
those who follow
may be able to do with what
I am beginning to say. Not like
I’ll be offering obvious
building blocks,

nothing shaped like
a foundation. I feel already

they’ll sit there in front of you
and look like obstacles or
late-life mistakes.

Maybe that’s all I’ll be 
soon: 

object lesson on overstaying
time. Ossified while longing
to still be fluid. 

Monumental.

Waiting to crumble.


The Blood I Can Draw

Originally posted, 7/15/2010.

Joe Frazier’s left hooks
were the only thing
on my mind.

I had just turned eleven,
had just listened
to the Fight Of The Century
on a scratchy AM radio
a few nights before.

Although I was a righty
I threw what I felt was 
a mighty left hook
at Jeff Maxwell’s jaw
in the middle school gym
and (though we were just playing)
I laid him out
flat and crying,
and I admit

it felt pretty OK to see him there, sliding
on his ass away from me as I tried
to explain it was all in fun to Mr. Tornello
as he shook me and dragged me to
his sweat-soaked office
to await

my parents.

Right jabs and Muhammad Ali
were on my mind
a few years later when Henry Gifford
got dropped, this time in anger,
on the shores of Thompson Pond
for cussing me out
when I cussed him out
for breaking my switchblade,
and this time

there was blood on his mouth
and I confess
it felt OK
to see it moonlit and shining
on his face and I am glad now
that I hadn’t had
the knife in hand
at the time.

Kung-fu movies and Bruce Lee
were on my mind a few years after that
when it felt OK to deliver
a straight-arm open palm blow to the side
of Joe Peron’s nose during a work dispute
in a warehouse,
and heard the gentle snap
of his bridge breaking.

He knelt there
holding his nose. His hands
soaked and dripped blood,

and that felt better than OK
for a minute,

and because we were men
we just shook it off

and told no one of the fight.

It’s all on my mind again,
childhood and adulthood,
fights and

fighter heroes
of ring and screen,
and I can’t shake off

being old and heavy,
and thoughtful
about how much harder
I could hit today
because I know so much more
about how much better it feels
to hit than
to be hit.

How good it felt then,
and how good
it would feel again
if the opponents I have now could be
dispatched that easily,

but now I face
unpunchable bills,
bloodless banks,
rapacious creditors,
my own rotten body, and

the creeping fear

that these are enemies
I will never beat.

I stand thrashing in the kitchen
past midnight: cross, jab,
hook, uppercut,
palm strike, temple strike,
slash, stab,
icepick grip, sword grip.

I wish I could be a pacifist
in soul and action,

but I am not;

this urge to admire again
the blood I know I can draw,
to know the joy of winning
simply and quickly,

is almost more than I can bear.


The Family Reunion You Did Not Want

If you find yourself
on workday mornings
staring into a mirror
and wondering about 
how a certain line
above your brows got there
after all the years it spent
on your mother’s face,

or about how the upward twist 
of your wry mouth’s left corner
migrated there from 
your dad’s Army photo,

or in general worrying
about this new slight slope
in your jowls,
so reminiscent now
of Uncle John, or how
the light you once saw
in your skin is now 
nowhere to be found,
dimming the essential
“you-ness” you have always known

into a simple, generic mask
of a darkening, dimming old man
getting older and dimmer 
in exactly the same way 
all the old ones in your family
darkened and dimmed,
take heart in knowing

that no matter how unfamiliar
you may seem to yourself,
how much you stray from
what you once thought
you immutably were, to those
on this side of the mirror
you will remain the same
mess we have always known
and loved and laughed at
since the first time
you stared in rapture
at your own face, not knowing
that we were in here all along,
staring back,

waiting for you to notice.


Day Pass

Some days
get a pass from having
to fit on the spectrum
of “good day or bad day.”

They just sit there
on the calendar
waiting to be remembered,
and never are. 

A week later,
as you toss the page
with the date into the trash,
you pause and ask yourself,

“What happened that day?
Did it even happen? Was it
the day that…no, that was
the next day…or maybe it was

the day that…no, no…” 
You crumple the paper
in a low panic at having
no memory of such a recent

blank. You can’t call it good,
can’t call it bad, can’t recall it at all.
It’s a tear in your fabric. A moment
you’re not even certain happened

although being here today
indicates you were present then.
Today is shaping up to be 
a bad day, what with this awareness

of how unaware you’ve become
now seeping into everything.
You stand there over the trash
wondering what else you’ve forgotten,

how far into oblivion you’ve gone
without noticing, how many holes
you don’t even know are there
are waiting to swallow you if you fall.


57

A number only, 
say the happy-go-lucky.

A milestone, say the ones
who love to make marks.

A privilege, say those
who see how hard it is to reach it.

A failure flag, say those
in love with smaller numbers.

For me, it’s a wall
I never thought I’d have to climb.

Two more digits
in the phone number of farewell.

Another reminder
of what I have and haven’t done.

A mingling of relief and dread.
Another beat on an inexorable drum.


Ready

That creaking
is coming from
your childhood, 
a tomb long
left open far behind you
that is now slowly closing
with all your beloved spirits
caught inside. 
From now on 
you are going to have to
move forward
with silence
at your back and
noise ahead
waiting for you
to arrive and make
sense of it without
their voices
to assist you. 
It is as if
they expected you
to have learned
something from all
that whispering,
as if they knew
all along
that childhood
is a tomb and that
its door would close
on them someday,
startling you,
leaving you grieving 
and dimmed
but ready.