“Colors are the deeds and sufferings of light.”
It has been said the weather is bright blue
this time of year. A tinge of cobalt cools
the contours, copper trembles, sounding true.
Red and golden maple leaves, the motley fools,
die dancing on a breeze of nevermore.
Those who must learn go back to schools.
The year was started long before
this current, nearer to the final, page
of curling calendar behind the closet door;
yet blood, air, the purple-kissed greengage
belie that paper rubric and bestir unnerving
promise in what’s more than come of age.
Cliché favors youth, the tight uncurving
blade of spring, bronze beauty at the beach,
the summer’s salad days all undeserving.
And youth favors cliché, believing each
grey hint of winter is a closing down,
smug in its grasp of things beyond its reach.
We’ve been there. Now we’re here, my frown,
searching a spattered mirror for small clues
to an unsettling ripening. We grope for nouns
to name it—for the way so many hues
exquisitely become a potent reticence of brown.
. A CERTAIN AGE
Here on the border, New Hampshire and Maine,
I watch the brown world through my windowpane
begin to go green, to spring once again.
The mossy, rockbound, hilly terrain
of my yard, I can now ascertain,
is a moldy, crotchety, ugly domain:
dead leaves, fallen branches, have lain
under snow the whole winter. Now a toy train,
a split frisbee, odd stones, compose the moraine.
I sigh. I wish by some legerdemain
I could clean it all up, simply ordain
a neatness. Sure, and order the sun, the rain.
The dried bamboo sticks, it’s plain,
are mocking me now. I will not profane
the air with my curses, but those are the bane
of my landscape: cane after cane, after cane,
their invincibility drives me insane.
What’s more, they remind me how arthritic pain
has me hobbled, three-legged, constrained
to walk with a stick. Perhaps I’ll never regain
my gardening self. Someone else will maintain
my grounds. That’s that. No use to complain.
What else can I do? Order out for chow mein,
wash it down with champagne,
try to treasure whatever obtains,
accept the inevitable, ultimate reign
of the gods, however arcane.
How readily, how easily
he weeps these days
sometimes for nothing more
than idly watching
a small spider creep along
a sunlit crack of wooden floor
or for a long familiar meaning
that he keeps inside of him
but cannot find the wording for.
Those around him, how they try
to make him happier— they
keep saying please don’t cry.
If not the master of his fate
he always thought himself
to be the captain of his soul,
knew how to quietly
gulp back a sob and keep
a trembling chin under control.
How well he learned to deal
in what society had taught him
someone is supposed to feel.
Society means less and less
to him with age. He doesn’t care
to reminisce or wistfully to dwell
on disappearances, or assuage
the thought of death with chat
of grandkids who are doing well.
He only wants to hold the book
and read the page he once marked
with a pressed white asphodel
and sail his bonny brine-tossed ship
star-eyed upon the mother ocean
deep in love with every rise and dip.
. SAILING ON A GIFT OF TEARS
—for a friend on the occasion of his seventy-something birthday
Now as you approach that swinging door
And think this day you’ve just arrived, before
You realize you’re also leaving seventy and more,
Do not be sad, and do not fear;
You get to keep this number for another year.
What’s in a number anyway? No more
Than abstract stuff enough to bore
To songlessness a moody troubadour
Or make a turnip shed a tear
Or take the rooster out of Chanticleer.
No, it’s not the numeral that we deplore
But tendencies of an outworn folklore
To make one seem a dinosaur
When it is perfectly, quite clear
To one’s own mind: “I’m not as I appear.”
In one’s own mind, one is eleven evermore:
One day a cowboy, next a sagamore,
Then a young blade barefoot on the shore
Lit up by love, crushed by a cruel sneer.
The feelings do not age, they persevere.
So let us spit the bitter in the cuspidor,
Immortalize the sweetness in a metaphor
And raise our voices in a great “Encore!”
This birthday thing’s a time for cheer,
A time for more than one more beer.
And if you come a little bit footsore,
Wearing a birthday suit unlike the one you wore
Into this life—this life that you adore—
So what? You are still you, still dear,
But best of all, you are still here.