Tag Archives: aging

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.

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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.


A Question For My Body

My body:

ever-unsleeping
mess of errors and glory; 
my arms slippery from wiping tears;
my legs exposed rebar
in ruined walls.

This body:

physical manifestation of
my urge to look away;
millstone around my proud neck;
refuse, reclamation, refusal.

Any body at all would probably be
a problem for anyone who dwells
as much in their head as I do
but this one, this aged one
I cannot exchange,
this downward slope,
this case study?

I stare into its luminous interior,
a fire consuming me
with minute pains and suspicious
failures too small to treat
and too large to ignore, and say:

fine.  Fine, body:
you are the game piece
I play with and you say
there are rules to be strictly followed now?
Fine, body, fine.

One question though: body,

would it have been different
in any way
if I had been touched
more often
during times when I craved touch
so much I almost wept
without it, or

would it have been different 
in any way
if I had simply loved you more
myself during
those solitary times?

Would we still
be here, burning,
resigned, and 
far too often
awake and aware
of the coming End
in the middle

of the night?


A Stopped Clock

Like a stopped clock,
I’m correct only at intervals.

If I were pressed to say when, I’d say
I stopped at 41 and a few months.

Old enough to claim full rights 
to grown-up, young enough

to pass for less than that
at select moments,

at least in my head.
Now, years later, I’m old enough

to claim old, young enough
to be dismayed that most everyone

agrees with me, not quite old enough
to be past all care for others’ perceptions.

I look forward to one more moment
of complete synchronization

when this stopped clock will one more time
tell it like it is, and then

most likely will be discarded,
or with any luck be shunted into a dusty box

of broken things with sentimental value,
things no one can quite bring themselves to toss.


A Diamond Till The End

If this brain softens
any more than it already has
I might have to open my head,
pull it out and lay it out
to dry and re-harden in full sun.

But how to put it back in after
once it’s cooked right?
That’s the kicker.
It would surely take

a shotgun or a hard fall
to get this big bean open
and putting it all back together
and locking it back up after
looks like it would be 
its own special hell.

So maybe
as my brain softens
and it becomes 
harder for me
to concentrate and recall
and speak, I should just accept

this process as inevitable? I don’t
want to. I’m not ready yet.
Some remaining bit of firmware
locked up in the mush is protesting
on my behalf even as I begin
to sink into that plush forgetting.

Mostly, I don’t want to lose
how I feel when I see 
your face.  

Please — let that
be the last thing to go.  

Let that
remain a diamond till the end.


The Store Manager

When the body decides it’s time to shut down,
it shuts down.  I can sleep fifteen hours straight
yet still wake with dead hands and feet

from the stubborn effects of how my blood 
stopped handling sugars well
some unclear number of years ago.  My brain’s

got more than a few holes in it from pure age
and all those drugs and all those depressions,
all those whipsawing snaps from high to low;

I can’t even speak to the ears failing, the eyes failing,
how weak I seem even compared to how weak I’ve always been,
how unsteady I am when facing up to where I’m going

and how fast I’m getting there. Waking up now
I feel like…a store manager.  Like I’m in for the early shift, 
walking from door to door, opening one after another —

or rather, trying to open all the doors and finding
the once reliable keys aren’t working or 
are even missing from the ring

where they’ve always been. I can run the place
just fine with what’s left but all day long
I’m wondering: what happened?  Where

are those damned keys? Stolen, lost,
or am I making them up and they never existed?
It’s enough to make me think about quitting.  Enough

to make me think about
fifteen more hours of sleep — the only time
I can’t feel. The only time I feel good.


Riddle

A clerk at a butcher shop stands five feet ten inches tall and wears size 13 sneakers.
What does he weigh?

The riddle says
Meat

He weighs meat  

Ha ha
good one

we’re supposed to say and
it’s true as far as it goes but

it doesn’t take into account 
the possibility
that the butcher might also sell
various deli items and the clerk
might weigh out piles of slices
of provolone into
white waxed paper
sealed with brown tape labels
with name and price handwritten
in black grease pencil

or that the clerk might also weigh
heaps of
potato salad
into plastic tubs
from a white enamel case
with huge sliding doors

(the way Michael Morelli did
when I was a kid
on my family’s Saturday morning trips
to his dad’s market in Milford

handing me slices of cheese
over the counter
with a wink
when my mom
and his dad weren’t looking)

It doesn’t take into account
that the same clerk might also
at some point
have to weigh
the decision set before him
about whether to maintain
this family business
or go on and do other things
and sell the building to a barber
upon his father’s death

It skips entirely
the possibility
that the clerk might also
continue to weigh
the consequences of that decision
every time he passes
the now empty and decrepit
storefront that long ago
went from being
a butcher shop
to a barber shop
to an antique shop
to a computer repair shop
to an empty shop
to a broken hole
on a broken block
in a broken downtown

The clerk goes home
Weighs himself and sighs
Stares into his bathroom mirror
Goes and sits in the dark
in his clean modern kitchen
at the butcher block island

Ha ha
Good one
he says

Elsewhere
the riddle is endlessly retold
for new audiences
more and more of whom
have never seen
a butcher shop
white paper
brown tape
grease pencil
have never smelled
the mingling of sawdust and blood
or felt the cold blast of air
from the walk-in
with the full quarters of beef
hanging behind glass
behind the counter

A writer on a couch with a laptop
stands five foot eight (when he’s standing)
and wears a size ten shoe
At 56 he is shocked to realize
he can still remember
the name of the butcher’s assistant
from a market
that’s been gone
for most of his lifetime

Is shocked to realize
how much that still weighs