The Poet, II

My body was once a beautiful house of marble,
Kissed to pale rose by the passionate heat of the sun,
Wherein through cunning channels flowed forever
Health-giving crimson blood in steady tides.

My eyes were then quick to see and to welcome beauty,
My lips smiled often with gratified desire,
My hands shook not, but were fit for caress or grapple,
My arms rose and my body moved in strength.

Then not a single line of any poem
Had my hands raped from my brain, but untouched and pure
They abode in the land of distant visions where no man
Heard my voice calling for them at eventide.

My blood lies in great black lakes now, sluggish and frozen,
Or fumes in like some boiling, stinging, poison brew
Till it suddenly stops in a lassitude unspoken,
Or bursts through my pores and covers me with red dew:

My eyes are bleared now and dull with sleepless midnights,
My lips are shrunken purses—their gold is spent,
My hands unsteadily clutch and paw and tremble,
My arms are as strings of macaroni bent.

And as for my chest, ’tis like a leaky air-box
Fixed to some cheap melodeon out of tune,
The bellows creak, the loose and brown keys rattle,
And the music that comes is like a dog’s sick moan.

But in my brain there seethes an adulterous hotchpotch
Of poems clean and disgusting, mad and sage;
And pain, like a dry fire, keeps them ever a-boiling
Till they splash over and blacken some wasted page.

Yes, I am a poet now to be mocked and applauded,
A turnspit that turns and must never taste the meat:
Behold how great I am, but I wait for a greater,
Even Death, who will silence the march of these crippled feet.

—John Gould Fletcher (1886–1950), “The Poet, II,” Fire and Wine, 1913

I Prepare to Face Fifty

      “I am middle-aged. Fifty is upon me. And I am faced by a grim reaper. But it is not youth I want. It is time. And there’s too little left. What shall I do about it? Shall I waste these remaining years on people who bore me, squander them on employments that satisfy no desires, sacrifice them to the ideas of others? No. I have wasted hours upon hours on nothing but waiting, days upon days on routine that led nowhere, and a tally of weeks on nonsense and so-called diversion.

      “I had an idea that in middle age somehow I should reach a hill and beyond it would lie a promised land. Enough merely to be climbing up. Suddenly now I realize the crown of that hill is age fifty. And I know that if there is a promised land it has got to be in front of me. If I don’t find it now I never shall. So I had better face this fifty, acknowledge it is gone — whether squandered or treasured — forever, and plan what to do with this promised land, how to spend these last precious years left to me.

      “From the brow of that fifty hill, suddenly I am beginning to compute time. Do I wish to spend so much of it in my remaining years on the pursuit of youthful looks, on this cult of youth? Perhaps I am a miser with my years, but I must confess that I can no longer see value received from pursuing youth. It will bring me no higher price for my work. It will make my husband no fonder; for affection after fifty rests on something other than complexion. It will not add to my emotional satisfaction nor to the pleasures of my mind. No, I shall not waste any of my remaining years on the pursuit of smooth pink cheeks. Nor will I waste my time or worry with weight, counting calories, or other such psychological-gastronomic engagements!

      “Frankly, I do not feel the same as I did twenty years ago. Moreover, I do not want to feel the same. These new feelings — may they not be an asset instead of a liability? I will not be satisfied if my remaining years are a mere repetition of those that have gone before. I want something different. I will not spend this time in an effort to produce an illusion to myself. I will be content to look my age, to dress my age, to live my age. I will appreciate all that life has brought me. I will face fifty cheerfully.

      “Do not take this to mean that I am negating its challenges. Fifty does not mean freedom from family demands nor from the things that we are tied to by duty. Fifty brings no alchemy that enables one to plan one’s life as one might try an uncharted sea. We will always have personal and financial limitations, and we can only alter our course according to the wheel in our hands, the craft under us, the shoals and currents around us. But what we may do is decide which direction to steer and how to get the maximum of enjoyment in the steering.

      “I must be economical of time. Each day must count. I must plan for the satisfaction that is possible here, now. In youth, always before us was that will-o’-the-wisp, perfection, because there was always the hope of time to reach it. That it was always to be to-morrow did not affect our attitude of mind — that of preparing, improving, developing. But gradually it has been made plain to me that this to-morrow will never come, that as I am to-day so shall I be twenty years from now. Yes, I may improve or grow in that time, but it will be along the line already laid out — I shall not change my style, my type, my talk. In the difference between acceptance of this fact and the belief that ‘all things are possible’ lies the difference between thirty and fifty, between youth and middle-age. To those of my contemporaries who still look for the Prince to ride up and disclose a crown beneath his fedora, who still expect pumpkins to turn to coaches, this seems a tragic difference.

      “May the acceptance of the truth of fifty bring its own joys. No longer do I need to pretend. I may say things frankly. I can accept myself as middle-aged, and therefore enjoy myself. I can squeeze the utmost out of what I am and what I have. I can relax from the struggle. I shall no longer punish myself. Instead of competing, I can create. I may choose what I like, including the colors that please me — that do something to my brain, if not indeed to my soul — rather than attempting to express the best in taste and fashion. No longer do I need to try to take everything as it comes, but select what I want. And please understand:  I am not retiring — I am attaining.”

—Emily Newell Blair (1877–1951), “I Prepare to Face Fifty,” 1926, abridged

Charged

suddenly my life feels
like the air before a storm
silent, searching, charged
an imminent disaster
with destructive beauty
bright sun here and now
dark clouds at my horizon

electrified waiting
a whirlwind of stillness
it’s building, billowing
but to i know not where
and possibly to nothing
no body to forecast
whether or whether not
my future lies ahead

feeling ghosts in the wind
restlessness & anticipation
i dread this storm
but somehow
more than that
i welcome it, ache for it

oh i sorely need to become
sodden, grounded
struggle bedraggled
so i can revive
regrow vibrant —

dead branches torn away
old beliefs ripped from roots
worry whipped to shreds
powerful bolts striking
stronger than anything
i can create myself

blind me — enflame my entire sky
i want to look at the world anew
and that starts
with my own vision
i’m ready
for a new version

my being has become torrential
yet minimal — nearly imperceptible
not yet in a crisis, still
i’m bordering one, circling it
crying out for that flash point
beckoning it, to break —
to shatter my former self
and my current nothingness
into a mended calm
risen from the storm

rain, gales, hail —
i don’t care
just let it come
i need to be reborn
from the wild remains
of my inner tempests —
no, i do not want to die
but only to live again

—Terri Guillemets

Alarm ringing true

There was time —
I know there was —
saw it spread out
all ahead of me,
a beautiful infinity —
immortal fresh-faced
clock of opportunity —
numberless, handless
no ticks & no tocks
save for the sound
of distant decades
too quiet to really hear —

but at forty-eight years
a sudden gear-grinding
cacophony, the outspread
blanket of eternity
has begun to suffocate,
wrapped around me
limiting my agility
darkening my path —

I’m having trouble
breathing, I no longer
see that clock open
or free, its movements
now deafen me, its hands
tear into my flesh and
grip tight my throat —

I am choking on
second thoughts
at this midlife hour
this day of reckoning

—Terri Guillemets

I accept you

Okay — I give in — I accept you — Middle Age
I am tired — I want to sit down — unrushed —
to read — and drink hot tea — and — Breathe
the number of years behind me — and ahead of me —
no longer concern me — mathematically or emotionally
I have come to rest in the sturdy arms of the Present —
where Time has been waiting for me — my whole Life

—Terri Guillemets