Poetry December 2006

On Being Fifty-Something

after Po Chü-i

From thirty to forty, you are distracted
by the five lusts, which I don’t need to go into.
From seventy to eighty, you’re prone
to a hundred diseases or more.

Who can remember their names,
or the ones of friends who’ve gone
and died on you? But, from fifty to sixty,
you’re free of all that.

Grief doesn’t know where you live yet,
only gravity, the body starting to sag
under the weight of memories that,
like extra pounds around the middle,

you can’t seem to lose. At the theater, you doze,
your eyelids curtains that refuse to stay raised.
Suddenly, you’re the director of a play
about to begin. Time: no time like the present.

Place: a room you think you recognize.
On the desk, a typewriter squats like a toad,
waiting for a tasty word to devour.
The wall’s the wrong color, too cheerful,

but its painted muslin quivers:
from backstage someone tries the door,
which refuses to give. How young you were
when such bright shabbiness was yours,

how like a desert full of dream.

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