In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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When old men go into restrooms they sigh,
and if they think they are alone they sigh again, often they do,
the sound rising slowly along the black and white tiles,
past the washbasins, up the vents, like the prayers of dead saints,
for all this going is a little death,
this holding themselves in their hands,
this pissing their lives away.
The warmth that leaves them is an incontinent sadness.
They stand in line and wait to let themselves go,
to watch the arc of their flowing,
or blithely stare at the wall like a map.
They walk away like aging soldiers off to their deaths,
their jobs, the game, another beer and a dog,
or back to the car, one’s hands on the wheel,
the gravel kicking out from under the tires,
the next stop a hundred and fifty odd miles,
another room, its musty familiarity,
the gray, congealed dirt in the corners.
Or sometimes by the roadside, by a hedge or embankment,
when there is no arriving at a comforting place,
when they must make their own room in the air, in the woods,
they assume the casual, inevitable stance, like captains on a bridge,
to know the pure dream of this passage,
the sound of its landing on the earth or the leaves,
or the steam rising up from the hole in the snow.
Perhaps they are claiming their space, like wolves, like missionaries,
marking the place on which death cannot move,
the mausoleum of our waste, the temple of all our slow falling.
Yet the sighing gives them away, its tacit admission
that our dying is endless, that our days are all numbered,
that we all have to go so bad we can taste it,
that it has always been so,
that even Columbus and Pizarro peed off the sides of their ships
sometimes late at night on the long journeys onward
to the shores of their deaths,
the sound of their yearning lost in the wake,
their sighs, their good hopes lifting all the while
into the new world.