Tag Archives: aging

Old Warrior

NOTE:  this is the 3000th poem posted on this blog since January 1, 2010.  

You know better
but you can’t help it:
you were a hard threat
for so long,
you maintain the fiction
that you still are

although you’ve been
diminished, so shrunken
by time and awareness
of your own limits,

that holding onto 
the past seems less intimidating
than adapting
to the new you.

Puffed up and packing.
Face carved into snarl.
Hand hovers by pocket
and eyes flick around
and up and down;

all a show,
all a memory play. 
No one buys it
except you.

You keep hoping
it will all come back to you
if necessary. That your hands
will regain speed, your legs
strength, the brightness
will come back to your eyes
and all the reflexes you treasured
will reset and 

in that moment
will remember how
not to be killed,
how to defend yourself,
how to do again whatever
you might need to do.

But let’s face it, sport:

if something happens
you’re not ready
and you won’t be —

so if we’re all going to be
at last on a war footing,
you’ll be fodder only,
at most a slight delay
in the path of someone
more able to fight.

It’s possible that small role 
is what you were born for —
no noble pedestal for you
after you fall,

perhaps for you not even
the gratitude given 
to the anonymous resister
long after the war ends;

it’s possible
you were born for no reason
except to be expendable,
old warrior,

and what more could you ask for?

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Tzitzicaztenanco

I’ve stopped looking at certain magazine articles
about travel to places I’ve been 
because I will not likely go to any
of those places again: Los Angeles, 
Columbus, Atlanta, Miami, Fargo.

There’s no point in looking at travel brochures
for places I never went to
because I will not likely go there now:
Tenerife, Juneau, Kingston, Omaha,
Tzitzicaztenanco, Lagos, Cheyenne, Rome.

I look into each room I enter now
long and hard, because I will not likely know
which entrance will be my last entrance,
which entrance will not be followed by an exit;
not that my struggle to memorize the details of each

will matter, for if I do indeed pass in that very room
right then and there, no one will know what I saw
and noticed. I will take that work with me
to wherever is next, or it will fade with my own fading
from sight. I tell you this now so you will know

how much it matters to me now that I am present
wherever I am.  When I pass I will strive
to hold onto that moment as long as I can. 
If it vanishes with me then so be it.  It of course
will vanish for you then, and I am sorry for that.

Just know that I have already stopped thinking of
Paris and Tzitzicastenaco with regret
for never having been there. That I have no regrets
for never having returned to Atlanta or Chicago.
I got what I needed there and hope I gave 

as good as I got from each. Whatever room
I depart from now, I will try to grace it. I hope
someone turns from me slowly cooling there
with love for my having been there. I will work
to honor all the spaces where I have yet to be.


Here I Come

One hand 
too sore to wash the other,

each foot biting hard
with each step,

brain on perpetual fire
in a stubborn fog

that won’t burn off.
This is how I live.

Right now I can picture
my guitar in the next room, 

waiting. Can see and hear
the expectant amplifier.

Despite the example of all
those still-playing classic rockers, 

they’re whispering to me
that I really should be

younger than I am, and less sore,
and depression at my age

is not romantic — as if it was
when I was younger,

as if I didn’t know that
way back then.

As if I’d never said good bye
to someone, unsure if it was for

the last time; as if that was not
melancholic, but terrifying, every time.

Alright, say the instruments: all righty, then,
are you getting up and limping toward us

once again as you always have in spite of
all your damned pains and grave desires?

There are still places I want to go,
even if I am less and less sure

of how long it will take 
and if perhaps I will not get there.

Here I come: stumbling, cursing
my wracked hands and feet, cursing

the dead weight of mood and brain.
Hello, I respond. Here I come. Yes.


Facing You

You say to me,
“don’t eat those foods, 
those chemicals
are nasty and artificial, 
your body is not made
for those…” and I eat them anyway
in full knowledge of how true
all of that is, simply because
I’m going to die anyway
and I have grown to like them.

You say to me,
“the bosses, the workers,
the system, the nature of
oppression, the means of 
production, how can you
participate…” and I agree, how
I agree from years of being
in that vise of steel, I can see all that
but I’ve still got to get paid
as long as I can because the rent is due
and I’m in need of a doctor,
because the vise
has crushed my willingness
to be afraid for righteous causes.

You say to me,
“the whiteness, the white talk,
the ignorance, the cluelessness,
the easy links between capital
and racism and patriarchy and
how can you still be here…” and
I agree, I agree, I have the arteries
and broken mind to prove it,
the slipped joints of incongruent action
and thought creak constantly under my skin
but I’m simply trying to get all the way
to death and oblivion
with as little pain as possible now.

You say to me, 
“how could you? how could you
do this, all of this…” and I agree.
I agree with your condemnation.
I do not avoid it. I do not 
defend myself from it, and 
part of the reason I’m bowing 
and laying my neck on the block today
is because the little I have left
in my power to do and say
is only going to be enough

to hold my own loathing of myself
at arm’s length for as long as it takes
to allow for my own death to be
clean and swift, a relief of burden on those
left behind to do the hard things
that I should have done back when I
was still deluded enough to believe
that working from within the vise
mattered in the slightest, and still able enough
to break free once I knew I was wrong.


The Older Artist Looks Over His Shoulder

I’m beyond the depths now,
at least beyond the ones
I’d always thought were my home.
I’m a skimmer now. I never dive.
I can’t imagine the pressure there
and know I would not survive it.

I watch the younger ones go there.
I do not always love how they go,
do not always honor what they return with, 
but that they can go at all, fearless and 
sometimes wrong and dumb but still
willing, is enough sometimes almost
to kill me when it does not make me 
swell with envy and pride for the work itself.

Now and then I stare back across
the surface I skimmed to get here
and tell myself that someday
I will go back for one attempt
to go deeper than before,
and then I look down at my feet
and realize I’m too often terrified
just to stand here
and hold myself upright
on the solid earth, and I know
that descent is no longer mine
to make, so I turn and watch 
the younger ones taking my place
and see them coming back up
holding what was never meant to be mine.


New Slang

Swore off using new slang
some years ago as being
too much work for too little reward,

too much risk of ridicule, 
too much displacement
of beloved words

for words whose tenderness
I did not fully trust. 
Now I’m alone, 
silent in the dark;

nothing to say
that anyone 

seems to understand.

People my age
seem too stony to me, no longer
pliable or open to the moment.

People younger than I am
seem too stony to me, too ready
to catch me slipping.

People older than I am
seem too close to death for me,
resigned to waiting just a little while

before I’ll understand them,
but I do understand them. I do.
Lost enough people already

to have stopped being terrified
of how this journey ends
if not yet to have embraced the ending.

This fulcrum upon which I now sit,
moment of balance between
current and former selves,

moment in which
my darkening

and stiffening tongue

has been stung
by misuse, 
cheated
of its ability to change?

It’s finally a comfort.
I’m waiting to tip
away
from youth, slide 
into old age.

I am not in love with how I am,
but I am nonetheless alive.
I still have words. Still speaking,

even without a clear sense
of where I will be heard
or for how long.


Regrets (I’ve Had A Few)

That was a time:
anyone who said “let’s go”
found a friend
in me. 

I’d be ready at once. I insisted
on buying the tickets or driving.
I’d hold the door as we glided out,
a company of foolhardy beings
adrift in the mysteries of the world.

But even then I knew
I did not belong among them.

I was raised instead
to sit by the window
in a hard chair
on a sore ass
and snub the rude world
when it approached

but somehow,
I kept standing up befuddled
when it came for me

and bewildered I would walk to the door
and swagger out among those 
urging me to join them and 
I would although
I’d be terrified the whole time.

Now I stay home pretending
I can still be counted among

those ragged, brave ones
even as I know

I never truly was
cut out for danger,

and when the world knocks now
I hide behind my curtains and say,
“Shhh…go away…”
and I am proud of myself

for ten whole minutes
after the knocking stops,

after which I curse myself
and begin, once again, to die.


Dead Photos In A Red Wallet

I obsess these days 
about how often now I forget
important names,
places: do not recall
any taste of her
skin during sex, or
how long we held it
together, or what we called
our firstborn. My wallet’s
a red, dumb tongueful of
photos I don’t recognize.
My house is a delightful,
frustrating maze becoming
new to me daily after 
thirty years here. I’ve got to
get out, I guess; I must,
I presume.

I don’t think
this is dementia. To be honest
I believe it’s a case of
having worn certain ruts
in my head so deeply that
I’m down to bone and there’s
nothing soft to get hold of.

I think
if I could get outside of this
I’d learn again. I’d forget
all these scattered bits. Start
new paths, be different, then 
meet my old love again. She
might not know me anymore
either. 

We could go over
these photos together. Trace
faces with our worn-down fingers,
one at a time, until one of us
shouted out a name. Maybe it 
would be right, maybe not, but we’d
be happy to have anything
feel correct enough for us to grasp,
a straw against our shared twilight.


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.


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.