Poem: The Benefit of Age

Augustans stairs

The Benefit of Age

From atop the quarry, little has changed
in the decade or more that you have lived here.

But you know. The distance is deceptive.
Down below houses and people age,
some houses are freshly painted,
the rot and weathering treated and removed for another season.
Other lack the means and maintenance,
slowly coming undone, hardly noticed
unless you stop and remember what they once were.

The country store where you ate breakfast each day
burned to the ground a few years ago.
There was a failed attempt to rebuild,
and the framed walls that once stood there have turned black
and fallen once again. All in a few years.

A pair of artist’s homes are surprising each day.
Something new popping up now and again,
then disappearing. The artists themselves have,
like you, gone grey.

There are gardens. Every spring there are gardens.
Some of them are wild and frivolous, perennially amuck
with color. Others are far more formal, at least for a time.
Depending on circumstances and personal history,
gardens rise and fall. None are the same
as when you arrived.

And neither are you. It is more than the greying hair,
or the rash of smiling wrinkles, an old man’s dimples
that ripple across your face. The change runs deeper,
a stronger awareness
of both your brokenness and resurrections,
the wear and tear that doesn’t show,

particularly in the distance.

And in the distance is where you are seen by most.
You don’t mind. Closeness has always scared you,
left you too vulnerable. It has betrayed you too often,
leaving you skittery, like a feral cat.
Skittery, yet hungering, always coming back,
always, for those willing to stay, and listen,
opening up again, finally unafraid to show
your peeling paint.

That then is the benefit of age.
A certain not caring. A knowledge that
there is no place for perfection, that it was always
a lie, that you will survive the weather,
again and again, that there are seasons
of repair, and seasons of destruction
all repeating and unpredictable,
that you never arrive, you only travel,
and wear and tear is part of the journey.

About this poem

I turn sixty-five in a week or so. “A landmark birthday” the woman I love reminded me a few days ago.

But after turning 21, when I could finally drink and vote as I like, no other birthdays have felt like landmarks. They are just milestones, each one a mile or a year from the last. A place to stop and rest and think for a while, before continuing on.

The picture are from Rome. Ceasar Augustus’ stairs, in what is left of his house. Somehow, I thought, they fit.

Tom

3 comments

  1. Always love seeing ancient places and imagining people going about their business. I often wonder how their thought patterns worked. Were they any different? Best wishes for your birthday!

    • This house and many others are on Palatine Hill, just above the colluseum and the forum area of Rome. There is just enough standing to give you a real feel for what it would be like to live in that time and place. I have always felt places have a certain energy, and it is something I feel when I enter places like famous people’s homes. You feel their energy still there in the place, whether they are figures from history or religion or the arts. At times, it is a really strong feeling. I was, for instance, almost overwhelmed with it when I went into Shakespeare’s home. But being in this part of Rome was something else. It was like there was just the thinnest veils between now and then. It was wonderful.

  2. Ah, the marking of time as a sequence of ” brokenness and resurrections” and the benefit of a “certain not caring” resonate with me. As I mark my 63rd year on this rock hurling through Space and Time I am increasingly fine with perpetually traveling without arrival . Early good wishes on your impending solar return, my friend.

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