Tag Archives: aging

Grime Under Your Nails

What matters in the end
is not that you believe
but that you act.

I’ve seen such good people swallowed
by this, folks who thought
belief was enough to sustain them.

Gentle hands, clasped in prayer
with not a callus to be found
upon them; all that uplift

and not a thing on earth
reflected in line or scar
upon those perfect hands.

What matters in the end: 
did you get dirty before the dirt
came down upon you?

What matters in the middle
and not long after the beginning,
too: did you step to it

when challenged? Did you learn 
that prayer flows best
over skinned knuckles?

Or did you close out
in sad peace on the couch,
cold insomniac in shorts

with nothing on TV,
just your self-control
to hold you here:

you tell yourself
you just can’t be taken yet, 
you’ve been so good. But

what matters in the end
is a scratch in the dirt
you can call your work,

grime on the knee,
the shine off your shoes,
something dark under your nails.


59 Looming

sound of boots
pulled from stinking mud

distance 
from center
of a swamp
to hard ground beyond it

a map you won’t consult
because it may reveal territory 

road trip
you won’t take
for fear of dying
en route

distance 
to action through words

speech
you won’t make
because it contains
promises

a room 
you won’t leave in daylight

a door
you won’t open
you won’t even unlock
in case you have to walk though

age
you never asked to achieve

frontier
built from demands
that you justify yourself
before you go


Born-On Day

Learning how little trace
you’ve left in places
you’d thought you’d trampled,

then seeing deep hollows shaped
just like you where you didn’t even know
you had been; when it happens,

that’s your real born-on day.
Forget calendars, forget cards
and gifts that will break or wear out

six months from now. 
You just found yourself.
You are brand new.

You start measuring your steps
any time you go out, checking
weight and placement, 

mindful of what’s underfoot.
Can’t change all you’ve damaged
but you can end your clumsy bumbling

and now and then retrace your path,
try and straighten up anything
you might have crushed

knowing nothing will revert
to what it once was but
wounds might yet be soothed.

It’s your birthday. You just emerged:
so little time left. You wasted
almost all of your body’s time

by not seeing this earlier
but now is now, here is 
one destination and there’s

another one, a celebration
waiting 
for your not so grand
entrance. Go along, now;

you were not
meant to end
while standing still.


My Morning Face

My unintended
punk morning hair.

Skin minutely flaky;
thanks, Type 2.

Eyes still baggy
in spite of sleep.

The damn bifocals,
the damn need for them.

Mirror, mirror: I begin to see
how I will end

some years from now,
although maybe I will have

fewer than I hope
to have. I will go

waving some sign
of denial

or defiance
in the midst of slow

decline, having
burned myself down

on one more night,
one more long night,

half blind yet
still seeking clarity.

I put myself
in this place

and will not likely
ever be content with it,

but while I’m here
I will look ahead.

I chose this,
now and then

readily and
consciously, now and then 

in error
or without

intention; I will
own the place

I am in and the place
where I’m going,

refuse to comb
my hair

before I step into
the next world.


A Bitter History

A bitter history
floats stinging in my mouth,
the back of my throat tightening.

When I can finally choke down the truth
of how long and hard I have worked
to get nowhere

it sits in my core burning 
and freezing: heavy 
mistakes of ice and molten lead.

You would think I’d be used to
starting again, just cycle back to my first
bite of the apple and do the next round

differently, but I end up
here, full up with pain,
swollen in regret every time.

In my ears a different pain
demands repair
in an old song:

grow up, move on,
old man, 
old mess. Nothing 
about you is more than

temporary. A generation
of broken boys just like you
mourns itself 

while the rest of us
stand waiting for you 
to be lifted
from the earth, lifted 
off of us.


Two Video Channels

Two video channels
working on the cable box
this morning — old school
R&B, or rap
barely five minutes old?
I would tell you
it’s hard to choose

but I am not lying, not
this morning at least,
when I say

ten seconds into
one video and I am
on that remote as if it were
a life raft to reverse
course back to the 
brand new mumble
I can’t understand, because

mouthing the words
and pretending I’ve got
every nuance, every hiccup
of timing, every inflection down 
in the song I’ve known for forty years

feels too much
like accepting that I am
already long dead.


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.