Tag Archives: aging

Hawks and Vultures

Overhead, one bird of prey.
Most likely redtail but surely a hawk
surmised from shape and behavior,
but in truth its identity for me is uncertain
from this angle.

Not a vulture,
of course; those are obvious
from below by the fingered wings,
the circles tightening and lowering.
But otherwise,
no true clue.

I should know this.
Once upon a time, I did
or thought I did. I spent more time
outdoors, from predawn
to deep into the night;
I looked up more often. I was confident
every time I pronounced my
identification of the shapes above.

I was, I’m sure, as wrong
as often as I was right
back then. Am I smarter now
that I just shake my head and say,

“I have no sense of truth
when faced with this, other than
the truth that I am simply thrilled
to see it out my front window
and am relieved to know
that is no vulture out there circling me,
at least not one I can see.”


With no regret for how I have been refined
by the decline of who I long thought I was
into this realization of what I truly am.

With no regard for what others may think of me
in my next stage — whether they pity me or break free
of me, whether they care for or studiously avoid me.

With no clear choice as to how I must plod through
the remainder of this current stage as it becomes
a bog sucking at my steps, begging me to stop, rest, and rot.

With no revelation in the transformation as it unfurls me
into some flag for others to marvel at or fear, the borders
of my territory becoming clear though little within is obvious.

With no usable personal history to back me up as I puzzle through
to whatever is next, and no proven sense of what might be next
as those who might know and pass this way cannot speak my tongue.

With everything I have said being true,
I once again come to the window in the morning
and, as always, raise the blinds to see the sun.

A Tub of Eels

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, taking care
of business, keeping it real, tight
and clean, at the same time weeping
at all these near-exhausted cliches
which so perfectly summed him up
without one ounce of novelty needed
to make them more precise;
how did it happen
that he had become
so easy to describe?

He’d stopped trying,
he guessed. It didn’t feel
at all that way to him,
he felt so tired
from what he’d thought
was strenuous work to maintain
his freshness,
yet here he was:

it had to be a clerical error.
It had to be a mistake in the math.
It had to be in the calculations
that decided what was effort and
what was just getting by.

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, baseball on the
television, words slipping
around themselves
like a tub of eels, the way
they always have. Taking care of
business, the business
of herding eels; looking for
the outlets they use for escape —

and still he’s so tired
of himself. So tired and stale.
He’s been doing this
for longer than the cliches
have existed. They were cut
to fit him, tailored to his form;
they fit too well to just throw away
no matter how worn they all were.

The Long Tract

The last time I looked
I had not fulfilled
any of my early promise.

Then again,
the hell with that.
The rewards I’d expected

were given by assholes,
and designed to reinforce

It’s as if my early promise
had their scent to it but after a life
of stinking up their joint their way

I’d opened a window
and breathed deeply of air
that smelled so different

I smelled different
after one breath. They couldn’t
take me in now, of course;

said I was a dud after all, said deep down
they always knew I would be.
I’m still myself, of course,

award-free yet tasting
not at all like sour grapes, surprising
myself if I am to be honest,

which I thought was the point.
I always thought that was the point;
tell the truth, do it clean,

let the rest take care of itself.
Maybe there are rewards for showing
late promise? Maybe there are none

and the reward now
is the increasing scent
of the outdoors

and the diminishing scent of
where I longed to belong, the smell
of trophies that pass through

the long tract into filthy hands.
The reward now is not having
to scrub myself raw

every time
I look at where
I’ve been.

One Sick Session

Remember how sick that session was?
We all walked out the door saying that was one sick session.
No idea now who played. No idea now what we started with.
I must have had a red guitar but which one?
I must have played my heart out but I don’t remember.

You were there. You’re shaking your head but you must have been.
If you don’t remember it I’ll try to remind you. Remember?
You offered me a smoke and I turned it down because no filter.
I smoked Winstons back then. Haven’t smoked in what now, a decade?
You say you never smoked? I could have sworn you offered me a Camel.

I know we started with a standard — maybe “Stella By Starlight?”
I don’t even recall how that goes now. You swear you never smoked?
I don’t touch my guitar anymore either. Maybe I never did?
The room I recall was full of smoke. Maybe it’s all in my head?
That sick session I rely on to remind me of who I was — did it happen?

Did I ever play at all? The room had gray walls and a ceiling fan.
Did it happen to me? I can just see five or six shadows intent on music.
Was it on TV? Everything is, you know. We were wailing, I promise.
No cutting, not us. We wove and bobbed and it worked, it just worked.
Did it happen? Did we play together? Everything used to just work back then.

To Not Be Me

In one of my last decades now
(do not contradict, I know
where I am on the Path)
and still waiting to grow up.
What does that mean?

I’ve felt the same more or less
since late in the second decade.

They say it to everyone
and maybe it’s specious and
we never do, or we were already
but it scared someone
and so we were told,
over and over, that we were not
yet grown. That we still had
work to do, and we do, and we did,
but nothing really shifted.

I know I’ve walked the Path I was set upon early
and I’ve been much the same
for the whole time I’ve been walking
and I’m still ungrown,
still unseasoned into much
that is different.

So then, into
the last decades, still waiting to say
oh, I see now; I see
what they’ve always wanted from me
(do not contradict, I see clearly now):
to not be me.

I Said To My Hometown,

I’m just passing through.
I won’t live here again.
I can’t. I see too well
to dare to think it could be done.
Within weeks after moving back
I’d tear myself up, lay myself
in a hole in the ground, set myself in
cement for archaeologists to find
centuries from now. They’d say
I was typical of the townsfolk
of the era and they’d be so right,
but I wouldn’t care then because death
has always had a way of erasing truth
and replacing it with lessons.
If I am not already
a lesson about my hometown
and how to set things in cement
that were once alive, why would I care
about becoming one after I’m dead?
All I can do is strive to be alive now,
right now, while striving to stay
the hell away from you,
and let today become the past
when I won’t care about any of this
any longer. Today, though, I’m just
passing through. I will forever be
just passing through.


That which began to drive me to this point
was my dad’s battered Mercedes 219 from 1959,
black with a worn red leather interior.
No show car, no rich man’s prize —
brought it back from his last German post
driven it to its death as a family car
that at the end couldn’t carry a family
to conclusion.

That which then continued to drive me to this point
was a succession of my own rat-faced used cars —
’67 junkyard rebirth Belair
in brush-painted brick red, two Saabs,
an International pickup, two Toyotas,
three Subarus, five Hondas; somewhere
in the mix was a fifty dollar Volkswagen
which lasted as long as a fifty dollar Volkswagen
would be expected to last.

Whatever has driven me to this point
was never a beloved steed, never
a cherished ride; instead a series
of disheveled limited options exercised
only when absolutely necessary, only when
I had to get somewhere else than where I was
when the previous option had fatally failed.

Whatever drove me to this point
always came with just the basics and problems
that came from basic breakage; wear and tear,
bad choices badly executed, poor daily care;
now and then the good old wrong place,
wrong time. I sit now and dream of
how it might have been different if I’d only,
if I had only, if I had only…and that is
what drives me now: a theory of my past
assembled from regrets and misread directions,
rides that did what was needed in the moment,
and nothing more until it all fell apart.

The Scent In The Mirror

It’s so dumb and common to speak of
the mirror moment of an easy
and tired description of
introspection. I’m not less
susceptible for knowing it’s
a cliche. That said,
when I see the desertification
below my eyes, the end-zone theatrics
of the silver overwhelming my beard
and brow’s defenses, I take a moment
to shift my sense and note how
all the scents of all I’ve been through
have stuck to me almost in spite of the visuals;
I smell everything from early sex to first death in that image,
and now and then the fragrance
of roses, lilacs, every one of my teachers’ eau de colognes
and aftershaves; stale cigarettes,
beer and whisky long soaked into cheap carpets,
Thai sticks smoldering, the antiseptic skin-burn
of cocaine cresting inside my pore-pocked nose;
suddenly I am young again in defiance
of the mirror’s insistence that I am not.
I inhale and suck my youth straight out
of that reflection, and the clinging flavor
of all those years takes my old breath away.

This My Body

This, my body:

nondescript and hard-regretted tattoos,
pedestrian piercings, a belly hung
over the belt line, badly crusted feet,
wounds long healed in the skin if not
in the tissues below. I claim the title of
man covered in evidence of mistakes
that led to this being, this now.

Some would say do not fall into the trap of comparison
but here I am staring into my own eyes, seeing
coal mountain strip mine, railroad cut
in New England granite, shoreline wasted
under washed up oil and the garbage of decades.
I claim the title of warning shot, alarm
long ringing and long ignored.

Old friends stand aside,
watch me self-inspect; they do not interfere.
Who knows me, knows I will go hard upon
this dark body, down this long tunnel called old man,
will mine it until I can draw out gold from poison.
I claim the title: I am temple of hard road.

Thus, my body,
my only shelter
against storm I brought
to bear upon me; storm
of unmet challenge, of
lessons remade and repeated;
storm bent on cancelling me,
storm I birthed to make me free.

The Big Window

All is right
with the world

you can see through
the big window

Windows are made
for breaking through

on your way to
the world outside

which is where you want to be
and where they don’t want you to go

They can’t understand
the garbled fuss in your mouth

that comes from
your unarticulated longing

or why a fall from that big window
looks like that yearning fulfilled

You try to tell them
the little cuts you’d suffer

would be blood
worthwhile shed

and that sudden stop
at the bottom

a wake up call delivered from
four stories up

to anyone else trapped
behind the big window

You’re fine with that
but they are less so

You curse your body
that clings to the chair

that will not do
what you want it to do

its fear of what comes after
the breaking of the big window

holding you back as solidly as
any chain or pillory

All is right with the world outside
yet you can’t even break a corner

of the big window to feel it
They won’t even let you

open it just a crack
and feel the air out there


If there was ever tenderness
I have forgotten it.

I do recall
how honest you were,

telling me not to go
the route you went,

and here I am now,
somewhere else entirely.

If there is a rationale
for your advice,

I have become its
embodiment. I indeed

ruined everything. Indeed
I am myself a ruin:

a mystery, an unexcavated
burial chamber waiting

to be bulldozed and regretted.
Hear them revving their engines

now. You are still here and will
be here after they pass — no one

guessed that would happen.
When they finish the road

over where I was, you will
take it to wherever it goes.

I’ll be in the blacktopped
earth, still underfoot.

I did not go the route you took.
I instead became that route

and look where it got me: if ever I had
tenderness to offer,

it remained unoffered. It remains so
today. Here in the sealed earth it all ends —

for the best perhaps, considering
what I was, what I might have been.


I call myself “old” because I am past middle age
and feel every breath of it inflating me to breaking.
You say, “no, you’re not,” as if those facts were false.
I call myself “failure” because what I have broken,
let lapse, and left undone are ballooning so greatly
in all the rooms where I find myself
that there’s no room there for anything else. You say, “no,
you are no failure,” as if you cannot feel the balloon
continuing to inflate and crush everything. I call myself
“useless” because of all the utility I’ve lost recently
and all the half-started goals that will as a result
never even get to half-finished. You say, ” you are NOT
useless,” but what I have done lately looks like a scant pile
in a dirty corner you can’t even seen for the growing balloon
of everything else that I am and loathe myself for being.

I look at these words and see a decent explanation.
That, I suppose, is something. I look at you
and you look right back as if there is nothing between us
that’s ready to burst. That is something.
I look out the window and the walk is swept clear.
I did that, I remember. That is something.
It is something, I guess, that I can get past the fear
of a looming explosion and still look out the window.

Old Friends Hike Up The Mountain And Back Down

Hardest work of all in all of this,

he said while gesturing at
our world below this cliff
we’d climbed for what we suspected
would be the last time we’d have together,
his lean arm stretching
to arc over the panorama
of mostly autumn forest
with here and there
a spot of town peeping through,

the hardest work I’ve found in all of this,
in looking upon all of this so late in
my struggle to leave something behind
of value to all,

is to accept that one thing
I cannot help leaving behind
is bad memories of who I was
in so many. Even if you convince me
it’s not as many as I think.
Even if you convince me that
those memories will dissolve
in the good I’ve done. Even if
you convince me that
even the bad memories
add some value — no,

I cannot accept it.
I will leave unresolved debts
with those I have harmed,
no matter how long ago —

hard work notwithstanding,
I will leave some behind
to whom I owed better than I gave
and those debts will be my truest legacy.

I reached out to touch his arm,
to reassure one of us at least
that he’d been a good man,
mostly, but by then
he was beyond touch
and reassurance and as we
started back down the trail
to our car, I could feel
my own debts massing
not far away, waiting to gnaw me
in the same darkness
into which he’d just flung himself.


My brain slows to a crawl by noon most days
so I rise early to cram in any hard thinking
required by my calling. After that
I slide downward toward manual effort and
eventually end up in something like catatonia
because I cannot find my words
for how this sudden downfall takes me
from laughing bright and sharp to mourning for
the fading light behind my eyes. Once upon a time
I had it going on at least from dawn to dusk
and often well past midnight. Now I’m a mess
by the time lunch rolls around from recalling
how all I had going for me from day one
was my intellect and now that is going away
like a protective glove being pulled off my hand
by the gears of a terrible machine that will chew up
my weakening arm and swallow me entirely one day.