Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Fine and Private Place

Why Old Men Are Grumpy

They ache from arthritis
And hurt from grief

They rue the end of success
Or they rue their failures

Impatience dogs every slow step
And halting withdrawal from the memory bank

They mourn each dying chum
And every dwindling day

Inflation depletes their fixed income
As they contemplate death

They pray for a good one
And curse the bad ones they have seen

Therefore they are grumpy

            I wrote this poem a few years ago, in the wake of the deaths of two old friends, yet I generally resist writing poems about aging, because we live in an unprecedented time when many prominent older poets, even in their eighties, are themselves writing poems about aging. Among the elderly but still often published poets are John Ashbery, Galway Kinnell, Jack Gilbert, W.S. Merwin, Marie Ponsot, and Adrienne Rich. They were born in the 1920’s and have been publishing for about half a century.
            What’s in an age? Would it smell as rank by any other number? The only certainty about age is that the higher the number, the closer it brings you to the grave, that “fine and private place, / But none I think do there embrace.” As Emily Dickinson might have written,
I think about it every day
And wonder, when it’s come –
Th’exquisite moment that I turn
Entirely dumb –

If I shall know how I succumb,
Yet pray I’m not in pain.
Whether there’ll be resurrection,
I hear the word is “mum” –


  1. Thank you for this. Poignant and true.Your work is provocative as always.

  2. Very timely for me. A he was more than a friend...I grew up with him until five on Walnut Street. We dug holes in his backyard with spoons. He died Wednesday. I didn't get the news until Friday. I didn't cry until Saturday when I had the time to think about it. So, why are old men grumpy? Dumbed, mummed, or numbed? Numbed, I think.

  3. o ye fine poet
    with a fine poem:
    remain ageless

  4. beautifully crafted, george. it's also very sad, especially when the reader wonders if there is life after death.


  5. Oh my god. Emily could not have said it better. She gets resurrected in your tribute to her through imagining what she would write facing old age (which she did not, though she faced death a thousand times,) and through our memories of her poetry. So many lines in her poetry about death - "I heard a fly buzz when I died..."; "the nerves sit ceremonious like tombs..." -
    I too face the next turn of a decade of life on this earth.
    Aging women can be grumpy too.

  6. we all need to rage, RAGE! against the dying of the light

  7. I thought of Dylan too after I posted - it was in the middle of night when his lines came to me.
    And Emily's: Because I could not stop for death death kindly stopped for me....

  8. Nasty business, this thing called "dying." But it is an honest word--much better than "expiring" or "passing on." Yes, I've seen about a dozen frieds die over the past 10 years, yet I'm still here. Life is something we try to put in order in the presence of a fickle universe. The evening martini does help. And, yes, I am grumpy.