Living by the Numbers
12 - 10+14 - 77 - two spinning tops - Night Flight
Pity the twelve year-old boy.
It’s sad to see how out-gunned he is: a village idiot
showing his kung-fu moves to the hidden dragon in the clouds.
His thin arms fail to impress whereas her long bones do;
his quivering voice emits distress amid her smooth meow.
And when it comes to strategy his plans get blurted out somehow
while in the upward roll of her eyes
she shows she knows what he’s all about.
10 + 14
The shock of a girl's beauty hits the hormones
and the mind never recovers.
I remember sitting in a classroom when I was ten staring for minutes without end
into the eyes of a blue-eyed girl in the next row.
We just sat there and stared at each other.
I also remember at the lake when I was fourteen
a girl called Angela, an angel called a girl
with her blue Italian eyes and her skin smooth as arbutus,
scented like cedar on a dock by the lake
as she dangled her golden summer toes
like a fourteen-year-old Jezebel in an ocean of myrrh.
Just as a boy will struggle to believe in God
after the cruel joke of Santa (And now you expect me
to believe that he walked on water and came back from the dead?)
so his mind will struggle to believe in the virtue of logic
and in the magic of hockey
once the deeper imprint of Beauty has erased all baser matter
from the book and volume of his brain. *
* In Act I, scene v, Hamlet swears to remember the ghost of his father: I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, / All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past / That youth and observation copied there, / And thy commandment all alone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain, / Unmixed with baser matter.
It'll take years to understand the way the world works
who does what to whom, and why.
It'll take years to understand what you want from love
and its relationship to commitment, beauty, and sex.
It'll take years to appreciate the meaning
of a world without Meaning or Grand Plan
but with meanings uncountable
built into the very act of being alive.
You'll learn this in the course of seventy-odd years
and arrive at last at a point where the mere touch of a finger
is greater than all the philosophies and Art that you imagined in your youth.
Then, one day, around the age of 77
you'll have Whitman's question — To be in any form,
what is that? — on the tip of your tongue
as you imagine the simplest touch
and the first time your finger strayed across her soft skin
made luminous by the summer sun. And then you'll die.
two spinning tops
in youth, come dreams of Truth
which later years dissolve, when you find out
that there’s no way to find The Answer;
there's no capital after the article
and the article's not definite,
and there's no longer
a subject, let alone
a predicate, only
life flows from the red tricycle in the driveway
to the full-throated roar of a crimson Maserati on the autostrada;
from the simplest pleasures to the most complex theorems
which in time dissolve into simple perceptions
until at last you see (but not too clearly)
that there’s no longer any need for
an overwhelming Meaning
or Call over the waters
where waves drift
and the self is
a mere dot
life flies like a beam of light
sent from this whirling earth
to the farthest spectre of a gleam
in the transubstantial vortex of an alien's eye
life opens like the wings of a bird
to the million visions of truth
and beauty yet to be born
life opens like a wide waterway
to a thousand worlds —
until, that is, we die
When the end is far
the need for Now is clear.
At thirty we see the clouds
and write poems to their beauty.
We ascend on shots of tequila
to the Blessed Rose.
We care about all tonight's parties
and the cut of our clothes.
When the middle is everywhere
the circumference is in the air.
At sixty we write of science
and the geometry of poetry,
Constructing outlandish models
of independent flow.
Unsure of mortality or immortality,
we order our thoughts row on row.
As the end gets close
the need for More gets near.
At ninety we start to see
the parting of the rosy cloud.
Red shifts to ultra violet;
forms reform and un-converge.
We think we're walking through a door
when we're crawling on the floor.
Deep in Sunday-school memories
we re-cognize the old apple:
Crisp outer shell and inner pulp
rotten to the core.
Fed on by the spongy worm
but not, perchance, as it once seemed;
Rather, a seed of galaxies
and a wormhole to somewhere else;
Drifting fluxed in amber visions
of our human dreamed.
Next: Dying by the Numbers