Tag Archives: aging

Haunt Song

You have refused to acknowledge
that you are the guitar,
and that the guitar is broken.

The missing pieces somehow
still right there in your body —
the dead end hand, the wilted neck,

the scrambled music within
that clots and clogs
when you attempt to let it flow.

Ghosts, but not ghosts.
Solid flesh that nevertheless has still
vanished. A haunt song playing

loud and obvious, yet no one
believes you when you
tell them what you can hear

or when you say: this is not
me, this broken guitar of
a man you’re seeing.

You’re wrong, of course.
You are as much your damage
as you are not.

You could try playing
what you hear: that haunt song.
See what comes from that

that might be the melody you were
once again or might be
some song nearly brand new, or some

admixture — one ingredient
dominating, then the other;
harmony and melody swapping

primacy. Whatever: you
are the broken guitar trying
to play. Still making music

while you can, whether
haunt song or anthem. There is surely
at least one note left.


The Path Without

I have learned to walk
the Path Without.

For years now
my body has scolded, “Student,

do what you are told.”
I’ve resisted for a long time and

my stubborn frame
has backed me up

but no more. Now I walk 
the Path Without.

A path without 
a place to rest. Without

peace, without 
freedom from pain.

My body scolded. 
I whimpered and yes, surrendered,

but not without a struggle.
Now I walk the Path Without.

Without the chops I once had
that made my living sing. Without

the skills I once had
that led me through love and art.

My body tells me this is
a lesson I must learn,

but I feel dumbed down, numbed
and muted, unenlightened

by being made to walk
the Path Without. What,

I ask my body, is it
that I am here to learn

in this stunting class you offer now?
My body says, you are learning

how to be diminished in one place
as you grow in others. Learning

that wholeness is not 
a flawless circle but sometime

is a process of living through
a twinge of pain, a bad footing,

over and over until you begin
walking again as you first did

long ago – a step followed by a fall
following a long slide down an incline

This is the Path Without. Slow down,
my body says. Do what you are told.

 


Plans

If I had died young, 
before high school,
you’d speak of me
as you might speak of a bird call
you hear outside your window 
at dawn in spring
when it’s been a long time
and you don’t know
what you’re hearing but it seems
familiar and you feel 
a tug of joy and sadness
at the passing of time.

If I’d died young but older,
say in high school, 
you’d speak of me
as if I were a storm 
a whole town
had endured
that had torn out
monumental trees
and wrecked landmarks
but all sign of it
having happened
is now gone.

If I’d died 
after high school,
years later perhaps
but before now, 
you’d speak of me
as if I were a flash,
a meteor you heard about 
from people
who heard about it
from other people, 
and you’d regret
not having seen it
when it passed.

If I die tomorrow,
how will you speak of me?
As the unknown bird song,
the faraway, long-gone storm,
the fireball rumor? I’m here still.
I’ve no plans to go anywhere, 
but plans have a way
of manifesting unaided.

Are you going
to speak of me
at all?

If so,
what wild moment
will spill from your mouth
after you’ve said
my name?


August 16

1.
Too often now I stare at a screen
and try to recall what it was like
when I could easily change blank
into not blank.

Sometimes I’d make
a good thing, more often I would not. 
However it ended, at least there was 
a result. Back then emptiness

didn’t stare at me like an adversary
the way it does now. The challenge now
is to survive, more or less, 
while fighting the whiteness of that void.

2.
Yesterday, Aretha Franklin passed.
Today daylight is still sagging
in the absence
of her possibility. 

Eighty years ago to the day
Robert Johnson passed. The moon
still hasn’t recovered all of the melody
it loaned him.  

Somewhere in between them
Elvis Presley died — same day,
different song; I know people miss him
but what song we lost that day, I can’t imagine.

3.
I’m not ready yet.  If I go tomorrow
the only song I’ll take with me
is a small one, a pebble in a shoe
shaken out after a good day walking,

forgotten once the immediate pain 
subsides. A tuneless whistle 
to get by one of life’s little discomforts.
Right now, that’s all I’ve got.

So back into the empty white I go
to blotch it up then read the portents there,
turn them into full-blown glory. I want the earth itself
to mourn me. It may not happen. I will try.


Recognition

I don’t have it anymore.
It’s possible
I’ve never had it, 
that I fooled myself
into believing I did.

It’s possible that every word’s
always been
a smear of ash.
Poured a few tears on it,
watched it turn to ink.

Starting to think
that each minute on stage
was a mistake made in public,
a stumble turned into
interpretive dance.

I hate ash,
and I hate dance.
How did I get here?

This is not to say
I did not enjoy it at all.
It had its moment.
It petted my ego and
gave good illusion;

at this point though, any stab
at recovery seems
ridiculous, an obvious
ploy for lengthening
my minuscule, improbable fame.

I’m the downside
of Andy Warhol’s 
fatuous words. The 
last tick of fifteen 
bad, sad minutes approaches.

I hate time,
and I hate loss.
How did I get here?

I could, I suppose,
buckle down and do
the real work
I should have done
early on.

I could, I suppose,
put some blood
into the ash and change
its hue. Stop crying,
stop dancing, stand still

and let myself 
become a target
for the hard bullets 
that come with the harder work;
I could still learn a thing or two.

I hate this dumb face
and God, I hate this blank screen.
How should I proceed?


My Dead

I find myself among my dead.
I look into their holy forms
and imagine how they would see me.

Once there I seek the truth of what I am
in comparisons between legacy and currency,
between what was expected of me and what I am.

I find myself in some ways continuous
and in others interrupted. In some ways
true to form, in others distorted, in yet others 

absent, in even more disrupted.
In fact I may say the truest discovery
is that I am in fact a disruption.

I find myself among my dead.
They ask why I am this and not that,
how did I get to be this and not that,

where I left this and where I found that.
I do not speak.  I turn a runway turn.
That is all I can offer: full self in rotation before them.  

I find myself while among my dead.
My people who came before are present with me
though I am only in part recognizable to them,

though I am able to answer few of their questions.
They ask if all is as they predicted. I say: pretty much
as predicted, except that my part in it is not yet set.

I find myself among my whispering dead
as they return to sleep.  They nod, say: come back to us
once you know. Once you’ve played it to the end.


Hardboiled Egg

Now and then love is a hardboiled egg
made at 11 PM for a sick old man.

Love peels with some resistance,
cuts easily, goes down well with salt.

In twilight, it glows
like the full moon. 

It’s a simple gift.
An orb of white and yellow,

something like clouds
around a pale sun,

handed to someone
with a rough stomach

who just wants
to get comfortable 
and sleep.


Three Broken Sonnets For A Broken Time (The Rowers)

1.
Sitting with elders, watching as they 
row softly toward the far shore, as they
relax into the final strokes
and glide into that last landing;

that’s been my life of late.
It comes to all of us, or should
come to all of us who last long enough
to see our elders fade from our reach.

Too many do not live to see this.
Too many never see a quiet passage.
Too many do not see the shore coming
from far away; too many reach it

violently, faster than they wanted,
faster than anyone wants.

2.
I’m not close to that shore myself
but I now and then catch a glimpse — 
a break in the clouds above the horizon,
a scent in the ocean I struggle against

that makes me think of shifting 
toward rest and letting go —
and then I shrug and put my back
into the oars again, 

sure that I’ll get there, of course,
as we all will but certain as well
of all the strain still ahead of me
before I can lay off the work and say

it’s time for me to relax, time to let the tide
pull me in to that far shore.

3.
These days it feels that we are all rowing,
harder than ever, toward a much rougher shore.
There are times I envy the elders
who are gliding to the light in some peace.

I sit and watch them go
and dream myself of such a passage.
I do not want to see the final days
we seem to be approaching — though I know

all finality is temporary, that beyond it
there is always a beginning, always
something to look for; hope is a survivor’s
oar, a sweet ache in a rower’s shoulder.

I sit by bedsides, watching elders fade from view.
I turn back to my own rowing. I weep, and then I hope.


In The Middle Distance

On the couch,
settling in. Cats
abound and I’ve got
stock car racing on the TV
while I read literature on
the death of capitalism,
the suicide of the USA.

My life’s 
almost over, I think.
Name an all-American
chronic illness
and I’m on the verge or
over the threshhold.

I’m ripe for the most common,
hypocrisy, as well;
it kills eventually, too,
but in the meantime

it forces me to assert
that I’m not dead yet;
the tension within is
frankly delicious and
I still have time
to achieve consistency,

even from here on the couch —
with the stock cars,
the cats, the thin herbal smoke
from the ashtray, the critique
of end stage capitalism
fresh on my mind;

while I’m glad I’m not dead
I’m not entirely sad to be able
to wave at my hole in the ground,
a dark freckle
in the middle distance

waiting for me, promising me
a place to square it all up
soon enough.


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?


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.