Left town before I could complete the seven-part cycle. Marooned in a small Kansas burg for three days with alleged hotel room wireless that taunted me, daunted me, then ditched me altogether. Before I left I'd been considering a few Rumi quotes to wrap all this up in a nice Sufi turban. But I happened to look up at my wall, where the following poem has been pinned since last year, when I hit 51. And it occurs to me that maybe the best credo is one that doesn't strain for a big summation, but that speaks clearly about How Life Feels Right Now, viz:
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.
I don't quite buy all this--grief has my info in its dark little rolodex, and I've never fallen asleep at the theater. But the feeling of it seems right. I just had a vivid image of the old desk my dad made me when I got an apartment off-campus, my second year of college. The house on Normal Street, the well-lit room with two windows, the desk with detachable legs, my big ol' Royal manual typewriter, on which I wrote the first real poems of my life.
I wrote one about the old ladies who sat on the porch swing across the street. They were always out there, not swinging, just hanging, in floral dresses kind of like the peeling wallpaper in my room. If youth and old age were on either side of the street, maybe fifty-something was driving up and down it. The old ladies had been dropped off into their dotage, and sooner or later a car would pull up outside my house, waiting to pick me up. I'd be busy, but I'd hear it honking out there.
I climb in. We drive. Every time I look at the driver's face, it changes. Sometimes I'm driving. Occasionally, I have an idea where we're going. Even when I don't, we're going.
Looking over all seven, I think, OK. This I more or less believe.
PS: Scott, consider yourself tagged. You're it.