The other day at the doctor’s office, the nurse
sized me up, professionally: You can’t be fifty!
She meant I looked much younger. I put up
a good front, you see. Maybe a poem shouldn’t
begin this way, but reading Jaroslav Seifert’s poetry,
in translation, makes me feel it’s fine to begin
a poem, shove it from the nest, and watch how
it falls. Anyway, I think I knew, for only a moment,
what a shy, country girl might feel if a famous
producer proclaimed her tomorrow’s Hollywood star
and imagined, briefly, another life far from home.
So I examined my life with all its essays to grade,
old trucks to keep running, pop songs to love, gadgets
to purchase, politicians to protect myself from,
promotions to earn or keep, and I was frightened—
like a dog with screwed up olfactory glands must be
when it discovers a skunk has sneaked upon it
beneath porch light—to understand I, middle-aged,
am not nostalgic. Where is my green meadow,
quiet river, and kingfisher? Where a generous gesture
in spring shade? Where the memory of book
or bouquet in innocent hand? I cannot remember
a time when some parent was not displeased
or at death’s door, some coach not yelling, grim
officials not explaining rules, presidents not trading
truth for lies, girlfriends not wishing for bracelets
or rings of brighter gold. I know no illusions
of charm in times past. No sweet chuck of candy
clings to folds of memory to be sucked again, slowly,
when I am bored on the pew of present circumstance.
No melons cool in the spring of years to be sliced
open, rich and firm, upon the hard table of my heritage.
My homesickness is no disease of loss or regret
cured into vain wishing. What cravings do I have
for gluttonous fantasies of a misspent youth?
Always there was too much, too much pop corn,
too many celebrities, too many theme parks, too many
angered games of Scrabble, Monopoly, and Risk.
So I felt the nurse would surely place her hand
on my leg, and request I undress. I studied
her eyes for a kind of certainty, then the ham
of her thigh, the suggestion of moist lips, then
the upturned hint of her snout. Is this what
we become nostalgic for, the incandescent
moment given free, the ample gifts of benevolent
chance? There was nothing I wished for there,
sitting on crinkly rolled paper, the fat fingers
of opportunity taking my pulse, except for things
I do on my way to where time goes unrepeated.
So I can accept this, accept there is no perfect past
to return to calmly, accept there is no present stasis
to defer tomorrow’s dangers to, accept, in searching,
in working, that continuous intensity faced forward
will symptom old pathologies into fresh disease,
accept that home, that mobile construction,
that inward carapace, is without past or destiny.
from As Long As We Need (Dalton Publishing)
To read my thought about writing this poem, follow this link.