Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wear Signs of the Struggle Lightly

For reasons having nothing to do
With the intention of the author,
That bromide suggested itself
While reflecting on a New Yorker article
I'd read in bed the night before,
Subtitled, "Views on Growing Old:"

"Wear Signs of the Struggle Lightly."

I don't care to look into where
Those uplifting words might have come from,
But they got me to thinking.

The piece was written by a poet,
Donald Hall,
While gazing out a window
Of his ancestral home
On a New Hampshire farm.

Hall's ruminations
Are anchored
By the vision of an old barn,
Its roof recently jury-rigged
To prevent collapse--
A hasty repair that, even so, he knows
Will see him out.

Hall spends most of his time now
At this old window,
Watching seasons change
As he thinks about past
Generations of relatives, bodies
Now occupying an immaterial dimension
Around this durable,
Timber-built house.

The image his words evoke in me,
However, is not of some same blood
Concentrated on a few
New England acres
For a hundred and fifty years.

Hell,
Back that far
My folks were scattered
Over half the Midwest--
Carpenters and grocers,
Dirt farmers,
Half-breeds.

No,
My thoughts, as
Hall lets me
Look through his eyes, are,
Unaccountably,
Of the wood--

The wood that's framing that window,
As well as all the doors, and
Wainscoting in the dining room,
Polished pine floors,
Finely grained and thigh-thick
Hewn hardwood beams.
They're of wood!

Moss-backed, rotting in the barn,
Or growing old on a dry and
Amputee oak out toward the edge
Of the yard.

I imagine blackened,
Shredding bark of an ancient
Wisteria stretching, straining,
Gnarling up the front porch.

I can see graying cedar
Fence posts sporting
Polyps of fungi,
Disintegrating into earth.

We take all this wood for granted,
Harshly prune, poison and cut,
Pulp and overuse it,
Scratch our initials
Into its trunk.

Yet, unaccountably,
Thankfully, for us
There'll always be
A feeling of sympathy
Emanating deeply
From the wood.

So,
"Wear Signs of the Struggle Lightly"?
I don't think so.
That sounds like
Some sophistic
Way of thinking,
That's neither the way of wood
Nor human.

We both support, and bear our scars,
Bend or decay with time
Until we reach the ground:
It's our nature.

"Wear Signs of the Struggle Proudly"
Is more like it.

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