Poetry by Philip M. Williams

To Jack

On the occasion of his eightieth
Eighteenth July, Two Thousand and Three

Growing Old
“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be.”
Declaims the good Rabbi
In aged fealty.

Don’t be so sure.
There ain’t no cure
For aching bones, unsteady feet,
For watery eyes, forgetfulness to meet
One’s closest friends.  Yet waking from
A restless sleep in early spring,
To hear the many birds sing
A wild cacophony to all,
And know it is an urgent call
To build their own secret hall
That sways and nestles till the fall.

If we arise to hear those trills, are we
So old?  Of crackling ire are we not free?
To wish those birds to shut th’hell up!
So we can sleep,  to get our beauty rest.
Forget about their confounded nest!
These last two hours of sleep are best.

For we have earned propriety.
We may arise at any time,
And fall asleep within the day
Without regard to those who say,
“Wake up!  That’s no way to stay!”

And what is age
But gathered time
Compressed upon a single page,
Just like those shoots a child does find
And presses ‘tween a volume’s leaves.

We’re like the dandelion.  Those hardy weeds
In early spring, amid emergent green
Will turn their face of gold to greet the sun.
Now that we’re old,  no longer do we run
And tumble on the turf,  and yank the stem
To see that gold up close.  Nor, as men,
Must we rain our curses on that plant
That blights our careful lawn,  and stomp and rant
About its root so deep its scotch we can’t!

For we are free
To see
Its complex harmony.

That golden plate curling close, and then unfolding once
Again, a pale white attenuated face,
With strands both thin and light, without a trace
Of youth, it reaches to our childhood breath.
Like memory,  we blow some thistle down to flight.
We care not where it lands,  and yet it brings us light.

Sweet memory recalls to us those special faces
That framed our greatest good,  and paints those unique places
Where now we know, by casting back through time, real joy
Was in our hand.  Those precious notes for man and boy
Reverberate all through the ancient halls of thought,
And varnished with nostalgia,  are portraits brought

Out to light.  Recall when one does grasp the hand,
Perhaps upon a sloping cliff,  high above
The sea, of one’s own failing spouse.  A beam of love
Blinks on.  That signal, shining through the dark of night
Does guide her freighted ship to rest.  Each renewed sight
Of this most favored place does sure burnish anew
A captured spot, far brighter than the endless view.

If we lack age, we lack the best
Of memory, and all the rest:
While we do hear that chatting throng
That cracks the sky with morning song,
While we do see that sturdy plant
That makes grown men both weep and rant,
While we do feel a burst of thought
While passing through a favored spot,
Then growing old, it has some charm.
And while we gain foul aging’s harm,
The really old view death with calm.


  List of Poems:

Songs of war

1. Song, on reading Hitchens' Good Time for War
2. Alexander

3. Acela Express
Birthday Songs
1. Birthday Girl
2. Travel

Stairs in and around Harvard College
1. Stadium Sonnet
2. Gund Hall Stairs
3. Harvard Coop Stairs (Tree of Knowledge)

Odd Songs
1. Piss Tish
2. Poison Ivy Blues
3. The Boston Room

Peace and Love
1. Sea of Love
2. Distant Moon
3. Anti Faustian Pact
4. It is an Honor

5. My Tin House
Old Age
1. To Jack
1. In Memoriam
2. The Judge


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