When I’m 64

When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out ’till quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

Hmm——mmm—mmmh.
You’ll be older, too. Aaah, and if you say the word, I could stay with you.

I could be handy, mending a fuse, when your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside, sunday mornings, go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wightif it’s not too dear. We shall scrimp and save.
Ah, grandchildren on your knee, Vera, Chuck, and Dave.

Send me a postcard, drop me a line stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say, yours sincerely wasting away.
Give me your answer, fill in a form, mine forever more.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty four?

Not so much, it turns out.

She’s living in Eastern Washington with her third husband.

I’m living here in Tacoma with my second wife.

Whodda thunk it? Both of our parents were married their whole lives. I guess I always assumed the same.

Guess I should’ve known better since everyone around us was divorced or getting divorced. But it never really crossed my mind.

And perhaps that was part of the problem.

As I’ve discovered, nothing lasts forever and thinking so probably means it won’t even last as long as it might otherwise have.

Today it seems the only thing you can really count on is the rain, at least here in the Pacific Northwest. Skye and I just got back from our daily walk, and the sky was as dark as Skye’s coat. We both came back soaked.

A Brief Break in the Clouds

We’ve been having the kind of weather the last few weeks that really makes me wonder if I didn’t make a mistake moving back to the Puget Sound.

Looking at the 7-day forecast you feel luck if there’s even a day that’s just cloudy with occasional rain. And even though it might appear in the 7-day forecast, it’s more than apt to disappear from the forecast a day or two before it actually appears.

I’ve struggled just to get in a half-hour with Skye without getting soaked, much less get in an extended photo walk.

Well, suddenly today about 2:30 the sky miraculously cleared. I grabbed my camera and headed to the nearest beach looking for some new shots.

Unfortunately the beach happened to be directly north of here, and the cliffs above the beach blocked most of what little sunshine there actually was.

I did get a number of pictures of birds I haven’t seen before but all of them were either in the shade or were so far out that even with a 400mm telephoto they had to blown up considerably to get a decent picture.

My favorite of the day would have to be this one of a Red-Breasted Merganser:

though the most common bird of the day were these Common Goldeneyes, another duck I’ve never seen before:

Lorna Crozier’s Watching My Lover

Though I’ll have to admit I’ve hit a stretch in 15 Canadian Poets X 3 where fewer poems interest me, I did like most of Lorna Crozier’s poems. Croszier “claims to be looking for the ‘spark of the spiritual in everyday life.’? If the poems included here are representative of her work, she appears to have done precisely that.

I suspect each of the poems in the selection is reinforced by similar poems surrounding it rather than standing as a single gem, but my favorite poem here is:

WATCHING MY LOVER

I watch him hold his mother
as she vomits in a bowl.
After, he washes her face
with a wet cloth and we try
to remove her soiled gown
tied in the back with strings.

Unable to lift her
I pull the green cotton
from under the blankets, afraid
I’ll tear her skin.
He removes the paper diaper,
No one has taught us
how to do this, what to say.
Everything’s so fragile here
a breath could break you.

She covers her breasts with hands
bruised from tubes and needles,
turns her face away.
It’s okay, Mom, he says.
Don’t feel shy. I’ve undressed
dozens of women in my time.
In this room where lover
bares his mother, we three laugh.

Later, I curl naked beside him
in our bed, listen to his sleeping,
breath by breath. So worn out
he burns with fever — the fires
his flesh light to keep him
from the cold.

Though he has washed
I smell her on his skin
as if she has licked him
from head to toe
with old woman’s tongue
so everyone who lies with him
will know he’s still
his mother’s son.

As a young college student I would probably have been repulsed, rather than attracted, by this poem, but life experiences have taught me to see it through different eyes, as it does to all of us who have taken care of parents no longer able to care for themselves.

The incident is so accurately and sensitively revealed that little remains to be said about it. The most poignant lines are undoubtedly “No one has taught us/ how to do this, what to say./ Everything’s so fragile here/ a breath could break you.? Taking care of a parent is such a dramatic reversal of what life has taught us, that I’m not sure anything but the experience itself could ever teach us how to do it or what to say.

The fact that the man can do these things with a sense of humor reveals a large part of his character, and, of course, a large part of his mother’s character as suggested in the last paragraph.

Patrick Lane’s “The Carpenter”

Sometimes when I’m reading a book I enjoy I find more poems together than I’m willing to quote and decide it’s best to just let the reader buy the book or find it at his local library rather than trying to show him just how great the book is.

That happened with this section of Geddes 15 Canadian Poets X 3, as I loved poems by both Patrick Lane and Pat Lowther. In the end, I decided I liked Lane a little better, though I’ll probably end up trying to find more poems by both after I finish reading the other Canadian poets I recently ordered.

Both poets focused on topics close to my heart, both have been influenced by Pablo Neruda, and both write in a very similar style. Perhaps in the end I chose Lane over Lowther simply because I liked the bird imagery in these two poems:

THE BIRD

The bird you captured is dead.
I told you it would die
but you would not learn
from my telling. You wanted
to cage a bird in your hands
and learn to fly.

Listen again.
You must not handle birds.
They cannot fly through your fingers.
You are not a nest
and a feather is
not made of blood and bone.

Only words
can fly for you like birds
on the wall of the sun.
A bird is a poem
that talks of the end of cages.

This poem reminded me of how outraged I was when I recently saw pictures of birds caged in Asian countries and saw how chickens were often raised there. It crossed my mind that there would be a certain poetic justice in seeing people who were willing to treat animals that way die from avian flu. I suppose someone could argue that I’m trying to cage birds in my photographs, but I prefer to think of those pictures as poems rather than cages.

Of course, the poem takes on an even broader meaning if we look at the bird as a metaphor for the human soul as many poets have done, as in Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings.

Coincidentally, the next poem also uses the bird as a symbol, though I was originally drawn to the image of the carpenter rather than the hawk at the end of the poem:

THE CARPENTER

The gentle fears he tells me of being
afraid to climb back down each day
from the top of the unfinished building.
He says: I’m getting old
and wish each morning when I arrive
I could beat into shape
a scaffold to take me higher
but the wood I need
is still growing on the hills
the nails raw red with rust
still changing shape in bluffs
somewhere north of my mind.

I’ve hung over this city like a bird
and seen it change from shacks to towers
It’s not that I’m afraid
but sometimes when I’m alone up here
and know I can’t get higher
I think I’ll just walk off the edge
and either fall or fly
and then he laughs
so that his plumb-bob goes awry
and single strokes the spikes into the joists
pushing the floor another level higher
like a hawk every year adds levels to his nest
until he’s risen above the tree he builds on
and alone lifts into the wind
beating his wings like nails into the sky.

For some reason the poem reminded me of the song “If I Were a Carpenter,” which I hummed off key for most of the day. Aren’t we all carpenters trying to build a stairway to heaven (if you’ll forgive me mixing my song titles)?

In our rush towards materialism, we seem to have conveniently forgotten that Jesus was a simple carpenter, neither prince nor king. Nor is it uncommon for people to get so caught up in getting ahead, in building the future, that they forget their original idealistic goals.

Perhaps not surprisingly as we get older and remember earlier goals, our idealism returns to haunt, if not inspire, us. As we look around and realize how far away we are from our original goals, we’re afraid to quit working lest we never attain them. But there’s always the hope that in the end we’re getting ready to take wing, not to fall off the edge of the scaffold we’ve built over our lifetime.