A Meditation at Reaching 67

Walter Holland


My desk with scattered pens, paperclips and paperweight of city night

gloriously old. Above me through the ceiling

a slow processional passage of music,

some hands moving across piano keys,

not easily but now and then sublime almost,

a sadness that attends this end of day.

They, gone. Lights across the way,

window lights and glass towers encaged in urban light.

A pandemic around me again, and you and they return.

The night is still as silent as it was then. A richness to darkness,

draped from the sky. Why? At sixty-seven

I’ve learned the unlikelihood of heaven. Too many body bags.

Too many stretchers, too many narcotic addled faces,

delirium and blank stares. My parents

gone, my past gone to indifference.

But how handsome

were they, like madrigals

sung, laughs and pleasure, the sleepiness of close strangers.

A radiance that fades.


Am I trapped in grief? Did I wish to be?

Green lawns and agony, the dirt of words

tumbling from my hand,

into a sunken grave. The pride parade. June. New York City.

In the eighties. Foolishly possessed by

tight tank tops and full lips, the gym-labored arms, the bodies

glittering with sweat,

high up the hands waving, a motorcade with rainbow flags.

ACT-UP protesters

falling on the pavement

supine, still to a hush.

This much I see moving by—the young day, the anger, the taut

chords of neck, down to the bone, emaciated chests.

Medieval almost.

An everyman show.

There the pilgrim, there death.

I learned to count breaths, touch hands, feel for fever, make

calls after midnight, anticipate phone messages.


This monologue. Modern? I think not. Soliloquy?

Players strutting on the stage of rage and brevity. Mortality

given out around me at random?

Which room? Which yellow gown?

Which hour to return? I became adept

at standing in the half-light

staring at a voiceless face

studying the features

my mind soon erased. 

Friendship under white sheets.

Friendship injected.

Morphine and sleep.

Morphine and sleep.

The cold rigor mortis of peace.

Old as I am, these images I keep.



Grim reaper in jeans. One thing time does is turn

us away.

One thing it does is tells us not to pray.

There is no second day.

They do not stay.

Youth goes away under harshest light. Why was I so polite?

What do manners

get us? Rooms

seem to be our inheritance.

Filled or empty.

They are dark chambers of the private heart or they are the brightest

parts of the past.

Where we surrender to the old and beautiful. Where we surrender to things

young and turning.

The precipice of change.

The precipice of beginning.


We sew a quilt and then at night tear it down

and start anew. Penelope

saw the long years through, waiting.

I journeyed a long time, but not as the hero, incapable of epic words,

the story trailed off

for me, the thread

fine but useless. Grief can be woven into art

but in the end, in the inevitability of the dark

it must be taken down,

only to be threaded again and again years later.

There is a coarseness now to those forgotten days. I run my hand across it,

a certainty that I can no longer believe.

There but not there.

Why did I preserve it? Why put it back together? I clutch it

to me, deceived for a moment by its warmth.

Sadness unravels.

Horror unravels.

Love and grief the same.

And art


torn from

the loveliness of the frame.


Walter Holland is the author of three books of poetry: Circuit, Transatlantic, A Journal of the Plague Years: Poems 1979-1992 as well as a novel, The March. He lives in New York City.

Drawing: Robert Natkin self-portrait circa 1962 (collection of Rick Whitaker)