Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
If I’m going to be ashes in a decade or so,
why stay up past midnight staring at the television
as if it might have a change of heart
and put a third-party candidate in office for once
or end the war, and, while it was at it, clear up my grandson’s acne?
Maybe I should just enjoy the dog’s howling next door.
All night it’s been tugging at its chain
as if the links might finally get bored with being metal and snap.
If I’m going to be incinerated — burnt to a crisp —
in roughly 3,650 days, why am I sulking
because this morning of all mornings my car tired of doing
the same thing it had done the morning before,
and because half my class chose not to show up for a lecture that
I, their professor, a year from retirement, had hoped
would change their entire outlook
on comma splices? Once I’m ashes drifting away on the water,
what will it matter that years ago I threw up on my senior-prom date,
or last week forgot my wife’s sixty-first birthday,
or this morning embarrassed my grandson in front of his friends?
How do any of us prepare for the future
when we’re so busy making a mess
of the present? Perhaps this is time’s truest revenge:
to make us aware of its passing, every minute
of every day. Approximately 5,256,000 minutes
from now — give or take a month or year or two —
my son is going to stand on a bridge
with his children and do something he never thought
he’d have to do: let his quirky,
annoying, yet lovable (I’d hoped!) father slip through his fingers.
That’s my only comfort: I will be ashes
so fine they won’t even question the rocks
they fall on, the creek that sweeps them away.
For once I’ll not embarrass anyone.
For once I’ll not have to worry
about whether I’m doing something right.
I’ll perform the one miracle of my life.
The Pros And Cons Of The Pathetic Fallacy
Whose bright idea was it anyway
that the trees should be obligated to make everyone feel better
about dying? What if the leaves voted unanimously,
one fall, not to change? Or the branches decided it was too much effort
to bear all those spring buds? You try
bursting into blossom year after year. And for what?
Ask the crocuses, crouching in their bunkers, knowing full well
what’s waiting to ambush them. What if
the daffodils showed good sense for once and refused to enlist
in April, or the tulips got wise to May’s propaganda,
or the June roses renounced their incendiary manifestos?
What if even tiny, subversive chickweed grew reluctant to infiltrate the lawn,
and finally rain acknowledged that it had been too ambitious
and couldn’t possibly bring life back
to so much that was dead, or wash clean a world this dirty?
What if the sky grew sick of all its fine speeches
falling on deaf ears, and winter failed
to take advantage of one more opportunity to storm in and fill a vacuum,
occupy the cities it had bombed,
and impose its provisional government?
What if space had enough of being infinite,
especially since so few of us have agreed to feel appropriately small
in comparison? What if blood wearied
of all that’s asked of it, and the heart got distracted
from pumping supplies into all of its outlying stations?
What if the light couldn’t even spare the time to fall
on my granddaughter’s face as she stands alone at recess?
It’s amazing that old philanthropist the sun
hasn’t grown fed up with a species hardly able to appreciate its generosity.
Look at how the earth works
overtime not to swerve from its orbit.
And here I am worrying about the pros and cons of early retirement,
about everyone I’ll let down and
all that will be left undone if I’m not there to do it.
How like us humans to pretend that we’re indispensable.
To what? The light? The air?
My True Vocation
Did you see that? I ask Zack.
Did you hear that, Jake? Maybe the building’s haunted.
I feel it’s my job as their grandfather
to add a little adventure to their day,
not an hour allowed to pass without our searching for a secret panel,
a passageway even the dead don’t know about.
What’s an afternoon without some poltergeist
to hide from, an opportunity to be braver
than we dared believe we could be, to hold our breath
in the storage closet of a museum so old
it doesn’t take too big a leap of the imagination
to think it haunted? Soon we’re not fleeing specters anymore;
we’re the disembodied spirits, at four and six
and sixty-six, able to turn into whatever we wish.
What’s the good of being alive if you’re not free
to slip out of one life and into the next, to exchange one body
for another? Though this time maybe I’ve gone too far.
A week later Zack’s still looking for the dead
wherever he goes: in the library, at school, at the doctor’s office.
Jake keeps asking his parents if his teacher’s real
or a ghost in disguise, and I get a good scolding from my son
and his wife. What I don’t remind them
is that I’ve been on this earth long enough
to find it disappointing without a little astral projection,
a few lurking shadows to relieve the intolerable
equanimity of light. If I invent an occasional danger for my grandsons,
maybe we’ll get so busy outsmarting it
that the real terrors won’t be able to touch us.
Being an apparition has its advantages:
no duties besides drifting in and out of this world, for one.
At my age I’m not that many years away
from finding out whether I actually get to be a ghost:
a different retirement than I expect my wife had in mind for me,
but a better promotion than I could ever win
at my real job, and a far better work environment
than the body provides now. Maybe this is the employment
for which I’ve been preparing all my life:
to be as intimate as air and as unobtrusive,
to be out of sight, but sensed at the mind’s edge;
to follow my grandchildren’s every move
the way only a ghost can, unable to interfere but
always wishing them well, wishing so hard
perhaps they’ll feel that wish in the fluttering
of a curtain, the flickering of a light.