On the Approach of My Seventieth Birthday

On the approach of my seventieth birthday

tropes of twilight and day's melancholy fade

pass into the lyricism of softening light at summer's end.

Waves of past and reminisce

wash over these hours,

prelude to the fall term, renewal,

return to books, study, rhythms of a life.


Akhmatova had it that poetry is a catastrophe,

not the kind of work where one gets up in the morning,

sits down at the desk. Well. I'll immerse myself.

Ah, but there is more to the affair

than just waiting around for the muse to make the scene,

as I imagine the great Russian poet well knew.

To the desk then!


I take up the pen once more

as I have through a lifetime of it.

Memory shades into imagination.

I peer from an upstairs window,

Emily Dickinson at my side,

her face caught in a sudden slant of afternoon light,

and with Emily Brontë roam desolate moors,

walk where kindred natures would be leading,

half a century and some years more gone

since first I imagined giving myself over

to the lure of happenstance

and the sublime charm of the absurd,

a jingle-jangle morning rendezvous

with Rimbaud on a drunken boat,

Dada escapades, Surrealist saints, Beat daddies,

Mayakovsky not a man but a cloud in trousers

waiting for Maria who said she would come at four.

Eight. Nine. Ten. It happened in Odesa, he says. It happened.


Fifty. Sixty. Seventy. It happens, I tell you. It happens.

A random line from a poem or a song,

a passage in a book, scene in a film,

Bergman, Fellini, Hong Sang-soo,

conjures chance recollection, intimation of so much

that might have been,

and next thing you know, I blink away tears.

So put on Dylan mid-sixties vintage

and crank up the volume till pen soars over page

as the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face

and the unfathomable ocean night of her eyes.


Then flash of thought to childhood home,

fields and woods, gently rolling pasture,

tumble-down barns, sheds, cows at the trough,

Granny's garden, flowerbeds.

The scent of fresh mown grass lingers,

magnolia blossom, dogwood bloom,

rows of tasseled corn,

freshly baked bread cooling on a kitchen counter,

and always and ever books,

Mom home from work with a haul

she picked up at the library on her lunch hour,

science fiction, space opera,

historical tales of people and things

far away in time and place,

the span of continent and a lifetime

away from me now,

yet with me still

in this catastrophe of poetry and life.


Akhmatova and Mayakovsky had The Stray Dog Cabaret

where one night the prima ballerina of Ballets Russes,

Karsavina, goddess of the air,

showed up and danced.

It happened in Atlanta. The Little 5 Points years.

Someone passed around a bottle.

I stepped to the stage

in a succession of dim-lit back rooms,

cafés, galleries, coffee dens,

where on a good night

audience outnumbered poets.

I sing Dead Angels, Debbie Hiers, the Dactyl,

Seaberg Skeleton Theater, acrobatic poetry,

Papa Bizzoso, Little Beirut,

Mama, Dada at 7 Stages,

bohemia where we could find it or make or imagine it,

some painters and some poets,

the odd piano player, an actor, a mime,

everyday intellectuals, barbarian literati

ever ready to storm barricades of decorum

and scandalize the bourgeoisie.


It took a while for a slow learner to figure out

that systematic derangement of the senses,

surrealist automatic writing,

exquisite corpses and the like,

a poetics of excess and delirium,

only takes you so far.

The season passed and I came away

somehow somewhat whole

with a few poems I like to think may be almost pretty good

and some friends who believe in me.


The modest laurels of a poet's life see me through

pandemic days and largely peaceful nights

of protest and mayhem that would set Bakúnin beside himself

were the old anarchist around to witness and gleefully join in

a creative urge to destroy, a mass hysteria that infects the air

indifferent to faction or wing.


Through the ashes of these years in their relentless passing

and the day's grim reckoning with human folly and frenzy,

I kept faith as best I could and like to think I keep it still,

conversing with Dickinson and Brontë,

Keats and Corso, Apollinaire, Rimbaud, Sam Beckett,

as Blake conversed with prophets and angels.


Out on the far left coast that gentle Portland breeze

floats through the window where I at my desk

visit again those Monet water lilies at the Museum of Modern Art,

a Ukrainian place in the East Village

where Brooklyn Judy took me for cannoli,

ferries to Staten Island, Sausalito, Bainbridge, the San Juans,

museums and gardens, boulevards and cafés of Paris,

vieux Lyon, Place Bellecour,

Dog Mountain in the rain

looking for those flowers said to bloom

briefly in spring,

scent of magnolia through bedroom window

sixty years gone,

Colonial Williamsburg with Mom

too few years before she stepped on a rainbow

at the age I now am,

here at the desk, pen put to page,

in and of the world, this lifetime of it.


86 views1 comment