He sits before me now, reptilian, cold,
Worn skeletal with sorrow for his child.
He would have lied to her, were he not old:
An old man’s fumbling lips are not defiled
By the sweet lies of love. Yet one must be
Skillful to bring it off; that treachery
Whips back to lash the bungler of its art.
He curses his ineptitude of heart.

He knows the quivering eye of youth is blind.
The pale ears, roaring deep as shell, are deaf
To the half-drowning cry of love behind
The skull. His daughter struck him in her grief
Across the face, hearing her lover dead.
He stood behind her chair, he bowed his head,
Knowing that even death cannot prolong.
The quick hysteric angers of the young.

I can say nothing, I will see him sit
Under the vacant clock, till I grow old.
The barkeep’s wife returns to throw her fit
And pitch us out into the early cold.
I touch his shoulder, but he does not move.
Lost in the blind bewilderment of love,
The meaningless despair that could not keep
His daughter long from falling off to sleep.

Meanwhile, the many faces of old age
Flutter before me in the tavern haze.
He cannot let me see him weep and rage
Into his wrinkled pillow. Face by face,
He grins to entertain, he fills my glass,
Cold to the gestures of my vague alas,
Gay as a futile god who cannot die
Till daylight when the barkeep says goodbye.


HOME PAGE IMAGE: “Purple Thing”, (2006) by AMY SILLMAN, FROM ISSUE NO. 195, WINTER 2010.