—for a friend on the occasion of his seventy-something birthday

Now as you approach that swinging door
And think this day you’ve just arrived, before
You realize you’re also leaving seventy and more,
Do not be sad, and do not fear;
You get to keep this number for another year.

What’s in a number anyway?  No more
Than abstract stuff enough to bore
To songlessness a moody troubadour
Or make a turnip shed a tear
Or take the rooster out of Chanticleer.

No, it’s not the numeral that we deplore
But tendencies of an outworn folklore
To make one seem a dinosaur
When it is perfectly, quite clear
To one’s own mind:  “I’m not as I appear.”

In one’s own mind, one is eleven evermore:
One day a cowboy, next a sagamore,
Then a young blade barefoot on the shore
Lit up by love, crushed by a cruel sneer.
The feelings do not age, they persevere.

So let us spit the bitter in the cuspidor,
Immortalize the sweetness in a metaphor
And raise our voices in a great “Encore!”
This  birthday thing’s a time for cheer,
A time for more than one more beer.

And if you come a little bit footsore,
Wearing a birthday suit unlike the one you wore
Into this life—this life that you adore—
So what?  You are still you, still dear,
But best of all, you are still here.

.Originally posted november 2013, without audio

64 responses »

    • It’s funny, Tom, last time I took a serious dip into Auden’s poetry—maybe a year or so ago—I was struck by how many of his poems were addressed or dedicated to particular persons or events, yet don’t come across as “occasional.” Thank you!

  1. A gem.

    Now this…

    An occasional comment for an occasional poem on a particular occasion; and you are probably now reaching for the aspirin, or, in a dawning moment of inspiration (i.e. abject terror), you throttle the pudgy pod of a dark puce poppy–long since faded–wondering how you will be able to extract a dram of opium from its tawny, turgid shell.

    And, at some point–around 350 to be precise–one proudly stops counting.

    • Occasionally on occasion I do reach for an aspirin, as when people cannot grasp (don’t you hate it too?) that puce is not a shade of green, but rather a dark brownish purple or purplish brown. You’re lucky to overlook so much history….I’m sure it helps—even without poppies— your sanguinity in the face of human cantankerousness and stupidity, and allows you to rest in the knowledge that both puce and chartreuse are such colors as never appear in a rainbow. Oh to be three-hundred and fifty, now that seventy is here!

      • Oh, to be seventy again!

        But, on occasion, I rely, purplely, on the French language for guidance, and ‘je constate que puce’ is a measly flea (aussi bien qu’une couleur marron tirant sur le brun-rouge), which is, occasionally, seen in the light of certain mellow afternoons, purple-brown–and this happens primarily and parenthetically in the overactive mind of doddering and entomologically afflicted fools.

        • Yes, those mellow afternoons…I know them well, though my own doddering foolishness is somewhat closer to mauve than puce. And as soon as I become too entomologically challenged, I flee to the indoors and (here I speak not of my home’s interior decor but of a literary expression I have always wanted to use) I sink into a brown study.

  2. Yes, we are all, thank the sagamore, still here. The swinging door – what a great metaphor. Time coming and going, life, too. Boy, can you work a poem, Cynthia – weeping turnips! Wonderful.

  3. I love it, the sentiment, the truth expressed, the meter, the cadence, the exquisitely chosen words! but pray tell….what is a “sagamore” ?

    • Big smile at your question, Julie. We both know Sagamore is a bridge over Cape Cod Canal! But, like so many place names in New England, it comes from a similar word in the language of the original natives–the Algonquian tribes— and means something like a chief among chiefs, a paramount, BIG CHIEF! Since so many of us played “cowboys and indians” as kids, it seemed to fit in the poem, especially since it rhymed!

      Glad you liked this one. Though it was written originally for the birthday of a particular person, I am escorting it into the realm of the general. So many friends—including your sweet self—to celebrate, especially this year!

      • yes, thank you, the bridge that makes me tear up as I see the sign and make my approach…I long for such a trip again. yes, I loved this poem, thanks for dedicating it to us all!!

  4. This is a birthday treasure Cynthia and most enjoyable listening to you read your words – so theatrical and punctuated with great imagery. I’ve read it several times, as I consider your way of seamlessly merging the realities of aging and that which seems a young mind – this is what I love about your writing. Everyone one of us can relate or will relate as another year changes in our personal calendar. Truly one of my favorites ~ have a beautiful weekend.

    • We are coming to the end of Taurus and will soon be in Gemini—your own sign, Mary! Of course you are too young to brood about up-coming birthdays but I’m glad you can relate to this poem…it was written on a specific occasion but I was really thinking of everyone. Hope your birthday time is beautiful, too.

      • Thank you Cynthia – I’m one of those memorial babies, of which my mother thought I was a simple case of indigestion. Thank you for the kind wishes and greetings – I’m pushing close to 60, not yet but kind of touching., of which I’m embracing whole hardheartedly. Here is to a most wonderful week ahead ~

        • Funny how you went from being a case of indigestion to the wonderful artist you are now! Glad you are embracing the thought of oncoming sixties….it’s a great time of life!

  5. So packed with wisdom Cynthia and all gift-wrapped in a lovely poem. Age is a state of mind. My great-aunt passed 101 and stayed young until the end. I’ve known people less than half that age who seem so very old. Age is also a number and has no relevance to the person who wears it.

    • All that you say about age seems true, Léa…. But imagine living to be 101! Some days I think I would like that, but then there are other days…..and then I understand what makes a suicide. But birthdays? No use getting our knickers in a twist over a number on the calendar, eh? An excuse to celebrate, that’s what they are.! Thank you for your lovely comment.

      • In both sides of my family it is not uncommon to pass the century mark. In my little village there are some very vital people well into their nineties and active in the community. Yes illness can change all this but I do believe first and foremost is our state of mind. Thank you for your lovely poem.
        I did a reblog on a post by my friend Mélanie who lives here in the south of France. She mentions a poet I was not familiar with but I have no doubt that you will. 🙂

    • Hello MoSY…thank you for those kind words. That must have been a really great year, when you were twenty-three, and do keep it always. (It will REALLY be great to be twenty-three when you’re seventy!)

        • But your life is now full, and very taken up with a husband and sons and all the truly incredible things you do…this is a different kind of time of your life. But it will be followed by yet another phase, and maybe another….unlike the youthful freedom and new things, but full of some older but maybe even richer things….it really does get easier and better… maybe because you slowly cease to give a damn about what doesn’t really matter…and you understand life and yourself better, if you’re lucky, and these are the greatest freedoms of all. Even in Australia!

  6. Aaah! *sigh*! Words, imagery and feelings we can all relate to I’m sure Cynthia – especially as we grow ‘more mature’! 🙂
    Beautiful poem, so well crafted! Really, Cynthia, can’t we nominate you as Poet Laureate – if not for a geographic location, maybe for the blogosphere? I am going to do some research on this (don’t know if the post exists!) 🙂
    You’re poetry is always exquisite and an experience! Thank you for posting and sharing – enriching our lives (through pain and all!). So much appreciated and enjoyed!

    • You make me smile, Rob. I’ll just say– as I have so often read it on other blogs—this is an award-free zone. (This reminds me of what’s happening here in New England: there are so many poet laureates floating around— national, state, city poet laureates—that it’s becoming a badge of honor not to be one!) But I know, from reading your own poetry, that you have an excellent ear for our language, and so I am honored when you say the nice things you say about my poems. Heartfelt thanks… 🙂

      • The feeling is more than mutual Cynthia!
        So pleased to make you smile – a little selfishly, I’m afraid, as I love to make people smile and hopefully, if even for a moment, feel happier and see some light!
        Hope you are enjoying a bright day! 🙂

  7. A beautiful gift for a friend that also delivers a wonderful message to all. I’m a firm believer in another year older – another year smarter – and moving ahead to become even smarter. Thanks for an appreciative view of life.

  8. Smiling! I’m only 43…but I can still relate. I find the numbers you chose intriguing, one and eleven (I’m always looking, so it seems, for combinations of 1 and 2 and consequently 3. It’s the alchemist in me). I enjoy aging, especially for what I have “survived” : ) I really enjoyed this poem.

    • Oh my, Anna, I didn’t realize you had an inner alchemist. It is indeed good to enjoy aging, considering the alternative….and especially if you are a seeker of the philosopher’s stone. it likely takes a good long life to convert the base metals into gold! Glad you enjoyed the poem.

  9. This chimed so well with my state of mind and the conversation I had with a friend this morning. She is deeply miffed at having tests and brain scans for her newly unreliable lower legs. She knows she is fit and young. She cycled off, still in a huff. I have a distinct memory of having attended her fourscore birthday party two years ago. I caught myself feeling sorry for some elderly tourists in Prague… they may well have been younger than me.

    • Welcome back from Prague, Hilary! Of course you’re’s all a matter of perspective. For example, I am grateful for a day when I can simply walk with very little pain. Your lovely friend— more than a decade older than me—I count as very lucky, to be riding a bike… very lucky indeed.

    • As Frank said, above, another year older, another year smarter. Let’s hope :-). But of course you have a lot of time before you get here, and you are certainly using it to the utmost! Thanks, Cindy.

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