“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.” William Shakespeare
Yes, those two, distinct ages of mine
pulled off quite the elaborate spectacle—
circling one another in yin-and-yang-fashion,
gurgling toward a neurotic crescendo,
then sputtering into oblivion.
In relishing the living left to do,
I relive the living that can’t be
redone—today’s waterfall of yesterdays
spills over into the uncertain basin
I once believed I was unmovable,
a boulder’s crest in a rushing stream—
but soaked as I am to the bone in cold humility,
I now glisten my own, trembling shadows.
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”—
the tomorrows do keep their “petty pace”—
and regardless of how we spend, squander,
mete out, or justify them,
we eventually forget their order,
and lose track of which ones were real,
and which were dreaming,
or whether any one’s disappearance over the cliff’s edge
is quantifiably different from any other’s.
I have tried and failed to live up to
the tomorrows’ skulking expectations—
performing the scenes from a moral composition,
which I now get that I had scripted for myself:
I’ve faced pink-nosed and dreamy-eyed
into an icy, winter wind—to look exotic,
like the cover illustration for Eloise in Moscow,
and I’ve lapped naked at the river banks
beneath a sun-streaked summer sky,
only to discover
no dance of mine was ever beautiful enough
to move the seasons.
I’ve sulked in self-abasement,
practicing absurd, measured detachment,
surrounded by strangers in trendy coffee houses,
making sure to be seen there
with my lattés, huddling, frenetic,
filling in crosswords with mechanical pencils.
One windy, winter morning,
swathed in a café’s doughy warmth,
I watched through the window
as a leaf flapped in the street,
as if it were some creature curling in its death throes,
the lifeblood ebbing from its wrinkled veins.
For an age, it darted in and out of traffic,
calculating each of its narrow misses,
so that it could leap anew—yet for all
of its clever tail-spinning
it could not stop being be a leaf.
An earlier version of this piece made its first appearance in Sixfold magazine, Winter 2013.
2 thoughts on “Wise at Thirty-Five, Revised at Forty”
Damn those skulking expectations! I’ve tried to be a leaf, but failed at that, too…
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’ve probably revised this piece more than a hundred times since age forty (the big 4-0 was just the beginning) — basically, every time I realize yet another way in which I persist in trying to be something other than what I am (which, of course, nowadays includes so many things I might’ve once actually been, and am no longer…). Please let me know if you ever figure out from whence all these expectations keep skulking… because I no longer even try to give myself credit for making them all up in my own head! Sado-masochistic tendencies aside, I know that even I’m not THAT clever! Lol!