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Solstice in the Maine Solitudes

Everywhere, 
I see these old men, 
Broken and bent, 
Dragging a limp leg along, 
Spines curved over 
Like trees oversnowed,
Trembling barren branches,
Bumping futilely, again and again,
Against the ruined choirs. 

I look in the mirror: 
Here is the face which flatters not.
But you are still well,
Master Silence. 

Yet, I wonder 
To the point of fascination.
So I ask Old John:
What happened to you? 
There can’t be more than ten
Or twenty years between us. 
What terrible thing did this to you?
His reply is the distant chime
Of the ferry coming in at midnight.

I go ask Master Shallow:
Was there a war?
Was there some great catastrophe?
He cries out like a wounded bird:
The days we have seen!
The days we have seen!
Now it’s time to go to dinner. 

The rattling ghosts of this future
Come round the solstice
Haunting with remembrance: 
Make merry while you can, 
Gather the roses, 
Drink the wine, 
Swing the axe,
In what years remain!

But I know, Master Silence,
Master Shallow and Old John,
Those merry years are gone,
The roses no longer unfold for me
And I’ve lost my taste for wine. 
What remains is only the reflex
Of how to hold an axe
And how to let it fall.  

This old man that I see,
Chortling hale and hearty,
Wearing his brave face 
Only halfway memorized,
Is worrying a wooden tongue 
Around an empty hole.

I know my path is gone wide 
Around the most of him. 
I hope to keep it that way. 
Fearful of the symmetry.

That Fierce Tiger
Is ready to pounce
And gnaw me to death
With his toothless jaws.