You feel aged tonight,
schlumping up the basement
stairs, light load of
laundry in a blue hamper
in your hands. A brief crick in
my left knee reminds how
marvelous is the knee’s
contraption. Still functions
in this, its seventh decade.
Yet, with each passage,
from the 1st floor to the
basement & back again,
I fear the day one of you
gives out. For having only
feet, should a knee burst,
the left one, I and all of us,
our muscles & contraptions,
may then call
my TV chair or bed
my home for good.
So, be it, says
the Buddhist incantation:
‘It is in my nature to grow old.
‘I have not gone beyond old age.
It is in my nature to grow sick.
I have not gone beyond sickness.
‘It is in my nature to die. I have
not gone beyond death …’ And
so forth. A good friend asked me
over a reuben for him, a mozzarella
tapenade meal, me: “Are
you afraid of gowing old?” I replied,
surprised by the quickness of my response:
“No.” Saying I’d done enough of
pondering said incantation above—
I repeated a piece of it to him.
Then, there is my 90-something
meditation guide’s insistent
focus, in this, the back-end of
his teaching life: ‘Impermanence!’
So, I’d no excuse not to grok the fact,
or traffic in illusions of not growing old.
Or denial of encroaching senescence.
Or flipping the bird at Mister
Death. It would halt nothing of my
body’s fade, of our decay. I was, perhaps,
whistling past my future graveyard.
Although I’m settling on,
at last, my final dispensation.
My wishes for my post-organ donation.
After my excavated body’s fiery
demise, there should be several
glass vials of what once was me.
For distribution—a sprinkle here,
a dollop there. First, at my wife
and her family’s mountain-nestled
graveyard beside a church in
eastern West Virginia. And about
a vial’s worth at the base of one
of the great trees at Pendle Hill,
where I’ve taken peace. Maybe some
specks in the soundhole of my
fine guitars, both the Taylor and the
Guild. So, I might resonate a few more
choruses and rounds of songs.
The rest? Scattered to the
wind from some high redoubt.
Or in a strong, clean stream,
one that chuckles through deepening
woods. But not here, in America.
Italy, perhaps. Or Ireland. Or both.
Yet I do not bind you, my heirs,
to these terms. Consider them mere
wishes. But should my cremains occupy
too much shelf space for too long,
pls make them far less top-of-mind
and top-of-shelf. Don’t leave me there!
Just get me gone to the cool wind
of a sunlit Autumn’s day. Or
the last stream that you meet on
a half-day’s hike into the hills. Or
keep it simple. Compost me,
at the foot of a raspberry bush
out Hoeft Marsh-way. Up the Ohio.
Where I go when I wish to see
meanders and encounter
all life, except a fellow person. Even,
then, I’d nod my head in greeting
to another traveler hitting ‘pause’
on our damnable addiction—
yours and mine—to the enflaming
blather, the thrill of the cyber-commons,
where we go to feel not so all alone. To
cancel out those old-pal feelings,
Insignificance and Nullity, by
my tribe going head-to-head
with yours. Fearing our deaths, fearing,
most of all, to die alone.
Or to be cast out the circle.
Or be picked off because of our
miscues, our failings and faux pas.
Pushed to the outer ring of the
sweaty pack. Where we’re easy pickings
for the predator we’ve feared has had us
in its sights, since we first awoke,
beneath the endless stars, beside a
crackling fire on some savannah.
Or outside a cave, somewhere time
out of mind. And heard the far-off howls
in dark times. Drawing tighter to a
tribeswoman’s chest. Or the scout
who eyes the dark. So, we might
hear instead a hard and steady
tick-tock heart. The first and still
the foremost beat we ever heard.
And so, I come full circle to my point.
That I will die, and sooner than
I’m ready. Will I still have the time
to get done the memoir I’ve been
writing in my head, in fits & starts,
for years? Will my children, young fine
adults now, ever read my intended tale
for them, foremost? And then, for
family and a smattering of friends. Finally,
for any stranger to whom it speaks,
should they trip on it out there, amid
the vast Borgesian library built
of sand that is the Web?
Body! Will you last?
Knees! Will you take me there,
to completion of my so-called
‘space opera,’ a sprawling,
insistent mess, right now. Whose
sentences, plot turns, and
characters impinge themselves
upon my inner eye, here one day,
and still the next? Or will I be
dead this time next week?
From the plague? From a wrong glance
looking down, plunging 70 miles
per hour into a wall? Or from unknown
wear and tear. My lungs, my groin, my
liver, back or brain give out. Burst
open. Here one breath & gone the next.
So be it. Our fate is to return to dust.
Then, scattered by a puff of wind.
And so—onward. To enlightenment,
to liberation. May all beings, myself
included, yourself, too, attain Nibbana.
Meanwhile, I try not to groan
too loudly as my back aches,
arising from my easy chair.
Sick of the news again. I hear
my father’s old man whoa—or is it
woe? As I misplant a foot, almost go down
headed up the stairs with fresh
laundry for tomorrow. But not
quite. Body manages one more
load. Down, then, up the stairs
again. Knee still good. So, now,
right now, we’ll rest.