Written a few years ago, this poem is deliberately vague in its avoidance of real-life people. Still, it seems almost uncannily close to home, in the wake of my 20-year high-school reunion. Note the usual veneer of foolishness crassly striving to camouflage blunt tragedy.
In the seasonal wash of “where are they now,”
heads are balding, cars evolving, babies
crawling stairs and chewing whole new foods
in a horror show of developmental antics; men
are fixing meals and cars and prices, women
changing jobs and diapers and husbands.
Weathery time scribbles on their faces
until every hat and belt and lipstick gives up
in disgust, saying you, my friend, are old:
getting soft, going gray, plumping out.
Men are growing tits while here and there
a woman loses one or two to cancer,
and bad as that is, it’s better than losing
the whole woman. There’s quite an array
of humans in play: some squiggle and yawn
through decades of furious fade; some scrimp
and save at the foot of a Matterhorn
of material want; some give out without
much fuss. One is dragged by her long hair
caveman-style down to the redneck depths
of an apple-orchard love; one is marching
in a slow parade of pets and ornaments;
another has given up on the past but still
hasn’t left its dark arcade of longing.
My first-grade crush is at this very moment
cleaning teeth and hoping the boy saying “AHH”
is not looking down her shirt or up her faint
librarian’s mustache, hoping for a sunny
weekend, hoping that I never think of her again.
There are others—they are everywhere,
and how soon they all go pear-shaped,
how quickly out to pasture, and by “they”
I mean “we,” and by “we” I mean “I,”
because I spend most of my time thinking
about myself and how far I have NOT gone:
how the girl in the passing car sees me
and thinks what I thought twenty years ago
when seeing one like me: nothing much.
I’d like to have more to report, folks:
to the genuine hippie princess I’d lie
about living in a hut behind a wildlife
sanctuary, how occasional giraffe heads
interrupt the sunsets; to the sagging
prom queen, maybe how I tattooed
this beautiful art-nouveau swirl on the hip
of a lingerie model. Oh, the lies
we could trade if I saw them all again,
their astonishing picnic of unfamiliar heads,
their zoo of improper bodies... if you could
corral them all, these men and women
you only ever knew as children, I know
you’d find an overwhelming belief in kids,
a few unhesitant certifiers of UFOs,
and a surprising number of them dead.