Thursday, August 12, 2010

When He Is Older

They will say he isn’t much
wonder if he was ever much
at all,
shuffling out
in corduroy slippers
to stink-eye the neighbors
and get the mail.

A roadside curio
on a high shelf,
gathering dust and pity,
wheezing and hacking himself
and further
into a world that
sucked out his youth
wrung out his blood
and picks its teeth
with his duty
and debt.

They’ll wonder what it is
he mutters under his breath
and he’ll wonder why
they can’t stop to listen.

They won’t understand
why he spits at their charity,
why he won’t be a jewel
they can paste
on their holy-rolly

They won’t remember the brawn
that shaped steel,
that set cornerstones,
that fought every fool
and earned every dollar.

Not when the tide of strength
has gone out.

They won’t recall
how he picked up and carried
a family of six
through fire and flood
like they were
strapped to his back.

Not when the skin
hangs off the bones
like that ragged undershirt
limps down his frame.

His memory will deceive him,
setting fire to the dried up pasture
of his past.

His body will betray him,
slowly curling his shrinking spine
into a fist.

He will write venomous letters
to the city council
about the parking meters
but there’s no way in hell
he’s paying 44 cents
for a stamp.

He will be a threat
to children,
a cautionary tale
to adults,
unshaven and unkempt,
stockpiling jars of hardware
rusty tools
and broken appliances
in a dim garage
like ammunition
for a burned-out

They’ll keep an eye on his porch,
waiting for the newspapers
to pile up
so they can call the cops
and be done with it.

But for now
he is happy to toss that ball
through a hoop,
chase lizards
through fallen leaves,
eat his dinner
in front of the TV
and call up his dad
every Sunday.

[a long-delayed response to Julie’s incredible When She Is Older - appreciatively, and with the hope that inspiration, in fact, is the sincerest form of flattery.]


Julie said...

It sure is sincere, Joaquin. I love it. Thank you very much. I'm honored that something I wrote inspired you, because you inspire me every week. I can't tell you how much I appreciate reading your poems and how much I look forward to Thursdays.

It may have been inspired by another poem, but this poem is 100% Joaquin Carvel authentic awesomeness. Some poets literally make me yell out loud while I read. I know that sounds nuts, but your poems do that to me. This one had me yelling "yeah!" and "hell, yeah!"

From the corduroy slippers and stink-eye to the hardware he keeps in jars, the details are so powerful! Actually, the stanza about stockpiling hardware and appliances brought tears to my eyes, because somebody I love does the same thing (and he spits at their charity...oh, how those lines reached down and grabbed me in the gut).

There's no way I can pick out a "favorite" line or stanza. But I've just gotta say how much I love:

"They won’t recall
how he picked up and carried
a family of six
through fire and flood
like they were
strapped to his back."

When I see older men who may seem "hard" on the outside, I always wonder about their stories--what they have been through, where they have gone, what they have done. You have portrayed one man's story so beautifully.

You have also beautifully portrayed how people's perceptions (and lip flapping) are often wrong. Men don't have it any easier in this world than women do, that's for sure. The words "duty" and "debt" say so much, as does the spine that is curling into a fist. What an amazing image.

The ending is fantastic. I love how it comes back full circle from the future to his present that is content. Rock on, Joaquin. Excellent, excellent poem!

Karen said...

As I read this, I see so much of my own father who is 86 years old and undergoing the physical and mental changes you detail. Watching someone who has been so physically strong sag and "curl into a fist" and witnessing his past burn like a "dried up pasture" is incredibly hard. You have captured the aging perfectly, both in physical details and in mental attitude. And you do so with empathy for his condition. No matter that he has become venomous and umkempt, you show us the strong man he has been and the young boy as he began, and you do so with respect for and empathy with his very human condition.

The style of this one is different for you. I went back and read Julie's incredibly good poem (companion piece to this) and I see the structural similarities. Very nicely done -- as always!

Terresa said...

This poem pulled me in, stanza by stanza. I'm a little dazed (in a good way). Your descriptions are spot on, mesmerizing, truth.

I felt as if you were describing my grandfather in his old age, but you didn't know him, did you...

PS: Curious/nosy poet me wonders, Where has your poetry been published?

PPS: Julie rocks, doesn't she? She's one of my fave poets ever.

Nevine said...

Wow, Joaquin! I loved the brutally cynical voice of this poem. Is this how we all become, at some point? Yes, I see parallels with older people I have known, as well... the "I'm not here to make you feel good about yourself and I don't give" attitude. But underneath the cynicism is that omniscient knowledge that the speaker's voice possesses... the knowledge that beneath the crocodile skin exterior... is still a human being who once upon a time...

An intoxicating piece, Joaquin.


signed...bkm said...

took me to Clint Eastwood on the porch in Grand many we passed by, there lives have been incredible and filled with things we can only imagine...great write ...bkm

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

I like the idea of companion poems...very clever. Both poems exude strength and skill - each standing alone on their own literary merits, but like a MACK Truck when side by side. I know this wasn't an intentional pairing, but it is those fortuitous moments of decision that give us some of the most exciting ventures.

Like Karen, I thought of my dad, too. Strong, hardworking, fun-loving man, who ended life not knowing anyone - not even himself. His regained dignity coming only in death. Horrible what life can do to us creatures.

This poem is a work of art - alternately touching, bawdy, and profound. I think it is the honesty here that grabs me. You characterize so clearly. You must dig deep and coalesce traits of people you've observed along the way to conjure characters. Julie must do the same. You are both masters of detail. Hey...just inspiring!

Aniket said...

Well if this doesn't move anyone, they just don't have a heart.

"They’ll keep an eye on his porch,
waiting for the newspapers
to pile up
so they can call the cops
and be done with it."

Heading over to Julie's to read the piece that inspired Joaquin. It sure must be one hell-of-a-piece. I'm shaking with excitement. :D

Sarah Hina said...

Kay zeroed in on my feeling, too: you and Julie are masters of characterization. Of stripping away prejudices and facades, and wrapping your hand around the warm, beating fact of a person's heart. I greatly admire this ability. It's a reach, instead of a falling back in on oneself.

This poem just leaves me awestruck. Truly. A novel's worth of penetration and insight, compressed into these brave and dizzying lines.

Something about this stanza particularly got me:

Not when the skin
hangs off the bones
like that ragged undershirt
limps down his frame.

Less music here, maybe, than in most of your poems. But God, what a painting this is.

joaquin carvel said...

all - i just want to say how amazing it is, how many of you connected to this through people you loved - i don't think there is a more moving experience for a writer than knowing something reached that deep. thank you, thank you.

julie - wheeew! your comments are a huge relief. and way beyond. thank you so, so much. yes - perceptions are often wrong - and i'm as guilty as anyone of letting them mislead me - but i came back to "when she is older" many times since you posted it. so i almost couldn't help this one. and - i'll rock on s'long as you do. :)

karen - yes, i'm not sure what's harder - aging, or having to watch someone age. thank you - i'm glad to know empathy came through - it was a fine line and i didn't want to fall too hard on either side. and yep, i was out of my element a little - so your comments are very much appreciated.

teressa - thank you - i'm glad. :) we probably all know this guy to some degree. to your question - nowhere, really. just here. but i've been working on that lately, so we'll see. and yes, julie totally rocks. hard.

nevine - yay! so good to see you. i love "crocodile skin exterior" - exactly - but yes, there's still a heart under there. thank you - made my day!

bkm - great movie - i guess it is a little eastwoodish - and yes, they are "filled with things we can only imagine". thank you.

k. - see, this is partly why we missed you so much - in addition to your gifts as a poet, it is a gift to have you as a reader. thank you. i can't do it like julie, but i was trying to go to the same place, just with a different voice. your comment makes me think i may have pulled it off. :)

aniket - all of her poems are one-hell-of-a-pieces (in my humble opinion). thank you!

sarah - i don't think i could ask for more than to have caught a glimpse of "the warm, beating fact of a person's heart" - thank you. i know it's longer than julie's - i had a hard time trying to condense it - but "a novel's worth" makes that seem ok. :)

Kits said...

Loved it Joaquin. It brings to mind solid images of someone growing old so amazingly. Boootiful words hon.