A Meditation at Reaching 67
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Love and grief the same.
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. walterhollandwriter.com
Drawing: Robert Natkin self-portrait circa 1962 (collection of Rick Whitaker)