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Past Sixty-Five by a Month or More

read by the author

And it must be the thirteenth snowfall of the year breaks like flak through the river-willows
And the big barn rocks on its keel like a tramp-ship nosing into a storm
Hurling a spray of ice-seeds at the windows of my study.
I have cleaned my house but there’s no joy in that as the days blow away
Like so many puffs of thistle-down. Box-elder bug on its back, I wave my legs in the air
And the woman on the video cajoles me: Make sure you do this every day.
So I ride my bicycle, mile on mile, and never move, and row
Red-faced across the floorboards but reach no shore, only a rock-band
Booms as the rowlocks in my backbone squeak and I know whatever holds me in
It’s not the winter.
              Why do I choose this trade, and choose again? These words,
This paper-thin ice of meaning which cracks with the lightest touch and we fall in, and drown.
We run words through our brains like whippets, train them to fetch in hell,
Believe and disbelieve, old obsession; with words we damage our friends and lovers.
What am I doing bending over my desk again? Chipping a flint that someone,
Later, might strike a flame? — when all the time I know that Heraclitus had it right:
All is flux and snow: you hardly have time to scratch your signature when a truck
Plows through your windshield or the valves in your heart freeze up, and all that hot
Presumption you call your self whites out, and your children look amazed
At your empty T-shirt dangling from a hanger.

I am trying, while there is time, to put my words in order. So many notes,
So much unfinished, I want to get some right, I want to show my daughters at least,
Look — out of all this I have shaped one thing clean and firm, but I stare at my scribbles,
Then plunge outdoors into the snow-surf, and stare at my tire-marks vanishing
By the mail-box, at the mad smoke swirling from my neighbor’s chimney
And cannot think of any rightness that comes with age, and keep on hoping that beyond
The foolishness and blindness there is something like joy, which today seems frozen,
A flower drowned in crystal.
                         Then I remember the bloodhounds:
How they can follow us days beyond death because every one of us sheds fifty thousand
Microscopic flesh-flakes each second that we breathe. But what comfort,
While this bitter snow-wind thumps the trees to know that, with so many
Million legacies each day, when we at last shut down, we will persist for a week or so
In ghostly grains — tiny snowstorms to twitch the nostrils of a hound?

Raman’s gone, and Dinny O’Hearn, and George, and lately, Keith, and Paul, and more, and more,
And I am angry with my friends, and grieving: their passing leaches our lives away. In the mouth
Of death and snow, I want to shout a spiteful song, but there is only this wind, this breathing
Until I think of an old man, twenty years beyond me, who smiled on all of us
And sent us home, ashamed of our vanity and fears, when he stiffened his back
And the voice, breaking through phlegm and pain, like an old warrior’s
Bursting backward into youth, declaimed, I am not done, and, Stanley,

I take your words and give them back, knowing you will forgive my theft
As the voice of the snow-wind howls across the barn, and I am standing now
My head in fire, and remembering, and singing with you, and singing again
And again, I am not done with all my changes.                                                  

For Stanley Kunitz