Do whatever it is you’d like to do. Be quick. —D.A. Powell
Each morning, a poem arrives in my box from Poem-A-Day. Today the poem was “Almost Sixty” by Jim Moore, in which he says, No, I don’t know the way to get there.
I almost scoffed at the idea that “almost 60” is considered to be an age of ‘aging’, since I have attained the venerable (vulnerable?) age of 61. Of course, we age from conception unto death, instant by instant. And our chronological age often bears little resemblance to how old we feel or act. But the sidebar on the web site offered a bountiful selection of poems about aging, which is a topic I am fairly obsessed with, both my own adventures-in-aging, as well as the process as I witness it in friends and family—and with patients in my work life. I gorged on quite a few of these poems, and would delight in sharing some of the delicacies.
I’ll start with two of my own poems, first, Aging (which appeared in Umbrella last fall):
Stains of living—rotten teeth, corneous nails,
purple pupura surrounding bottle-green bruises,
spidery capillaries mounting nose and cheeks,
gummy age-spots, cloudy sclera.
In chilly weather, deep in Florida, iguanas fall
from trees. Nothing holds us to this earth.
We are smudges on carelessly washed urns.
And an unpublished one from NaPoMo this year:
Today I found a spider
angioma on my cheek. Twice daily,
like so many pills to swallow, I face myself
and take stock of my ravaged skin, my steadfast
scowl: the splotches, gullies, paper thin-crispy flakes,
not to mention chin hairs and the road map
of crinkles and crow’s feet.
My good feature resists destruction: Frida Kahlo
eyebrows run across my forehead, partially framing
a lopsided bump at the supraorbital ridge, a remnant
of a childhood run-in with a concrete wall.
And my eyes. Are still green.
Mine is a pretty grim view, right? In Age, Robert Creeley portrays the indignity of the obligatory over-age-50-colonoscopy and of snoring, but also gives us this:
The world is a round but
diminishing ball, a spherical
ice cube, a dusty
joke, a fading,
faint echo of its
former self but remembers,
I won’t copy the entire poem, Affirmation, by Donald Hall (To grow old is to lose everything), because it’s too difficult select from its riches, so I highly recommend that you read it here, but it ends thus:
and affirm that it is fitting and delicious to lose everything.
Emma Lazarus personifies Age and Death, with these words:
Come closer, kind, white, long-familiar friend,
Embrace me, fold me to thy broad, soft breast.
Life has grown strange and cold, but thou dost bend
Mild eyes of blessing wooing to my rest.
I so much identify with these words of C.P. Cavafy, who mourns youth in Since Nine:
The apparition of my youthful body
came and also brought me cause for pain
With To think of Time, Walt Whitman is so straightforward with his words, it almost makes the whole affair of aging and dying seem both familiar and comfortable:
Have you guess’d you yourself would not continue?
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?
Have you fear’d the future would be nothing to you?
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a corpse!
And to end with—Robert Frost, in To Earthward, gives such poignancy as this:
Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault:
I crave the stain
Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.