In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Like it or not — and, really, I don’t like it —
with every passing year they muscle in,
inhabit my skin like fingers in a sock,
shifting my face into a foreign familiarity,
less me, more them: father, mother, uncle, aunt,
blunt nose from one, slack cheeks from another,
her lips, his eyes, and from them all, the wrinkles.
Age brings them home to me in this new way,
and how hard it is to love them in myself
as I loved them — still do, down to the moles
on the backs of their hands, the tobacco breath,
the bald spot I prayed I’d never have. God
didn’t listen. This morning in the mirror they
are merciless, and I stare at my face until
I lift my hand and press it against
my eyes the way one presses down the eyes
of the dead. But then, in the darkness behind
my eyelids, I see what I won’t want to forget
when I trace their features on my changing face.
They are where I come from, and age brings
me home to them.
Wanting’s the thing, not the thing itself.
The thing itself no longer calls to me:
a glistening French cruller, or crème caramel,
or sun-licked body lounging by the sea,
deep into a languorous stretch, are not
the point — no need to taste or to caress.
Which is in fact the point. Because a knot
just tightened in my chest, a cramp of loss.
It doesn’t make sense, I know I don’t want
to waste myself in wanting, not at all —
but to have back for a moment what I can’t:
in wind and sun and spray, the sirens’ call,
me strapped again to the salty mast! Wrung
to the marrow by that unbearable song!