You notice, Lord, I am half pleased
pushing sixty to be so confused
and never know how to cushion the pain
of unlucky love, but it is again
because the case is mathematical,
God of games, like the Chinese puzzle
that used to tease me when I was
a child who could not do puzzles.
Till woeful with the sin of waste
which is the worst,
Creator of the only world,
I cut the knot with my sword,
the nervous solution for a stupid
problem that Alexander did
and still I don’t know any better
just to live on a little.
Maybe because of the rout we made,
or somebody tried to feed them bread,
the phoebes left our porch where
they laid their eggs year after year,
and when I saw that empty nest
it spoke for all the guilt and waste
and raging of my days that drove
away their sweet domestic love.
But Merciful! they have flown
no further than the attached barn
through the wide door always open
where now the two dart out and in
with bugs for their gaping brood
top of the birch post I made
to firm the loft and left a ledge
very apt to put a nest.
Just as it shouldn’t be
I have the hot ideas of youth
without the energy
and the responsibility
of age without the satisfactions.
My right of property is to exclude.
Oh, these nights I dream only the truth
—I fumble the ball—I lose my baggage—
Yet the objective view
from my long experience
is interesting too
though not comic or epic or tragic,
as I ride by Lake Winnipesaukee
on the public bus
going on a mission
about which I couldn’t care less.
It was because of my need, Lord,
that I myself deluded
that an unlikely thing could be
and stubbornly acted so, and I’m not sorry
just sad. I gave of myself
a lot and did not get enough,
too bad for me, but I did
not do him more harm than good.
Then O You dry fountain of actions and passions
abounding beyond the equations
of the conservation of energy,
therefore smile again at me
as distraught I go
among the flowers of the meadow
the innumerable daisies
and tangled vetch loud with bees.
The daisies we trod
were not lopped by the mower
and some have survived.
As it turns out, lad,
we should have been more careless.
Oh another time.
Modest the flowers
missed by the mower, and those
along the margin.
(Being a poet
I notice small; the great cows
will eat the big bales.)
Clear to loneliness on his hilltop
ringed by hills shines the deviating Way,
in the valley my divided heart is darkly
boiling. My speech is bottled up
and though I’m only half blind my hands grope
as if I were quite blind. Is this for me
therefore the floundering Way? mind murky
and to fumble is to cope?
—a harvest grows rich under my inept care,
my children are beautiful and one is dead,
I don’t know if you care for me or not,
and the Americans after their love affair
hate me again and nobody will read
my next book that I don’t intend to write.
Haunted by presence, harsh with your absence
this room flashes the sunset in the mirror.
Do you think ever of me there
as I think often of you here?
It is humbling to be old and needy.
How quick my relief from the chore of being with you
is less than how I miss your onerous presence!
I had hardly the morning to say “Oof, he’s gone!”
before I began to be unhappy.
It’s wiser for lovers to quarrel before they part
and you and I know how to pick a fight,
but last night we were mournfully affectionate
even though I didn’t have a hard on.
Should I after all have driven away
like the lady with the raggle-taggle gypsy
in his old truck, where by now
we are glowering at each other?
But he alas, lonely and dismayed,
is rolling across Canada
while I go swimming in the cold stream
without my Scottish laddy.
You are lithe like the doe I do not see
this summer along the road
to Maidstone Lake, and it is hard
to remember how my hands were free
with your shoulders. Surely
I did not simply make love
to your smooth belly enough
as you let me kindly.
And now she is deep somewhere
in the woods or to another mountain fled
or taken (God forbid)
by an out-of-season hunter.
His truck he drives in day and night,
he painted the inside orange and white,
he hangs up his clothes and keeps everything neat,
and he sleeps alone and it’s not home.
I ought like a father to him
because I love him a lot
to bring him home and let him alone,
but I’d never be content with that
and my wife won’t care for that.
So variations of Frescobaldi
he plays on his cracked guitar,
sweet and earnest does he play
but he throws the song away.
O God, there must be some way
that he and I (and many another)
can be a little happier.
Whisper it to me in my ear.
“I wasn’t disappointed being here—“
it was his only compliment in seven weeks,
referring maybe to the food (which I cooked)
or a cool swim in the Connecticut.
Meantime he ground his molars as they do
when they are doing what they call thinking.
Chewing over what to answer.
Forty thousand years elapse.
Often they believe they said it
or that he took my hand—
“I don’t have the image of myself holding hands,”
he offered after ruminating.
The image! this turned me off but good.
In the welter of the facts of life he said it,
where men cannot afford to clutch at straws.
I felt contempt and my cock fell,
and there it was:
if he didn’t talk I was exasperated
and if he did talk I got angry.
The two babes lost in the wood
is the emblem of the kind of love I have,
clinging to one another
among the hooting and howling
and there is nothing to eat.
But it is rather peaceful
in the center here
kissing away our tears
and then just kissing and kissing.
Obviously two grown men
cannot live on this way.
Can we not!
Being a man of strong ideas
I lay with you some times without ideas,
and because of such an empty hour
I sometimes say what has substance.
And it is lovely for an aging man
to be able to make poems.
I am grateful for them to you,
David, however it was.
Goethe said that he lived what he would write.
Not, surely, he made love in order to write about it
but it is the same: we will the world
to have a meaning even if she won’t.
Accept this gift. It has the classic plot
of break and grief, memory and making poems.
It must be interesting for a young man
to have a wise old fool for a lover.
“Both ways,” I cried out, “I defy
You, God, because it is necessary:
first what cannot be I will
and now I destroy what is possible.”
So saying I fell dizzy down
on the ground that reeled around
and the young man led
me home unsteady to my bed.
15.Fugue in D-Sharp Minor
What does Bach say? what does it mean? since I
seek in this song when I am in trouble.
It is that he is singing at the speed
of a person who is walking along thinking
unflagging. If you attend to all the parts
in their detail it comes out anyway
to a great breadth and whole. And even so
there are moments in it that are sweet.
In fifteen poems
I have now finished living
through June and July.
By and large I judge
that I am less unhappy
than I used to be.
I am not carried
away by this surprising
The mother grief wells
at a hint that my only
world is relenting.
October 8, 1970