On the Eve of a Birthday
BY timothy steele
As my Scotch, spared the water, blondly sloshes
About its tumbler, and gay manic flame
Is snapping in the fireplace, I grow youthful:
I realize that calendars aren’t truthful
And that for all of my grand unsuccesses
External causes are to blame.
And if at present somewhat destitute,
I plan to alter, prove myself more able,
And suavely stroll into the coming years
As into rooms with thick rugs, chandeliers,
And colorfully pyramided fruit
On linened lengths of table.
At times I fear the future won’t reward
My failures with sufficient compensation,
But dump me, aging, in a garret room
Appointed with twilit, slant-ceilinged gloom
And a lone bulb depending from a cord
Suggestive of self-strangulation.
Then, too, I have bad dreams, in one of which
A cowled, scythe-bearing figure beckons me.
Dark plains glow at his back: it seems I’ve died,
And my soul, weighed and judged, has qualified
For an extended, hyper-sultry hitch
Down in eternity.
Such fears and dreams, however, always pass.
And gazing from my window at the dark,
My drink in hand, I’m jauntily unbowed.
The sky’s tiered, windy galleries stream with cloud,
And higher still, the dazed stars thickly mass
In their long Ptolemaic arc.
What constellated powers, unkind or kind,
Sway me, what far preposterous ghosts of air?
Whoever they are, whatever our connection,
I toast them (toasting also my reflection),
Not minding that the words which come to mind
Make the toast less toast than prayer:
Here’s to the next year, to the best year yet;
To mixed joys, to my harum-scarum prime;
To auguries reliable and specious;
To times to come, such times being precious,
If only for the reason that they get
Shorter all the time.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Serenade for the 60th Birthday of Frederick Delius, by Peter Warlock
For a Girl I Know about to Be a Woman
BY miller williams
Because you’ll find how hard it can be
to tell which part of your body sings,
you never should dally with any young man
who does any one of the following things:
tries to beat all the yellow lights;
says, “Big deal!” or “So what?”
more than seven times a day;
ignores yellow lines in a parking lot;
carries a radar detector;
asks what you did with another date;
has more than seven bumper stickers;
drinks beer early and whiskey late;
talks on a cellular phone at lunch;
tunes to radio talk shows;
doesn’t fasten his seat belt;
knows more than God knows;
wants you to change how you do your hair;
spits in a polystyrene cup;
doesn’t use his turn signal;
wants you to change your makeup;
calls your parents their given names;
doesn’t know why you don’t smoke;
has dirt under his fingernails;
makes a threat and calls it a joke;
pushes to get you to have one more;
seems to have trouble staying awake;
says “dago” and “wop” and words like that;
swerves a car to hit a snake;
sits at a table wearing a hat;
has a boneless handshake.
You’re going to know soon enough
the ones who fail this little test.
Mark them off your list at once
and be very careful of all the rest.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: You're No Good, sung by Betty Everett
On Stella's Birth-day
Stella this Day is thirty four,
(We won't dispute a Year or more)
However Stella, be not troubled,
Although thy Size and Years are doubled,
Since first I saw Thee at Sixteen
The brightest Virgin of the Green,
So little is thy Form declin'd
Made up so largely in thy Mind.
Oh, would it please the Gods to split
Thy Beauty, Size, and Years, and Wit,
No Age could furnish out a Pair
Of Nymphs so gracefull, Wise and fair
With half the Lustre of Your Eyes,
With half thy Wit, thy Years and Size:
And then before it grew too late,
How should I beg of gentle Fate,
(That either Nymph might have her Swain,)
To split my Worship too in twain.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Stella By Starlight
To a Child
BY sophie jewett
The leaves talked in the twilight, dear;
Hearken the tale they told:
How in some far-off place and year,
Before the world grew old,
I was a dreaming forest tree,
You were a wild, sweet bird
Who sheltered at the heart of me
Because the north wind stirred;
How, when the chiding gale was still,
When peace fell soft on fear,
You stayed one golden hour to fill
My dream with singing, dear.
To-night the self-same songs are sung
The first green forest heard;
My heart and the gray world grow young—
To shelter you, my bird.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Dolly Suite, by Gabriel Faure
BY stanley kunitz
—on my seventy-ninth birthday
Nobody in the widow’s household
ever celebrated anniversaries.
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
that my friends were given parties.
Before I left town for school
my birthday went up in smoke
in a fire at City Hall that gutted
the Department of Vital Statistics.
If it weren’t for a census report
of a five-year-old White Male
sharing my mother’s address
at the Green Street tenement in Worcester
I’d have no documentary proof
that I exist. You are the first,
my dear, to bully me
into these festive occasions.
Sometimes, you say, I wear
an abstracted look that drives you
up the wall, as though it signified
distress or disaffection.
Don’t take it so to heart.
Maybe I enjoy not-being as much
as being who I am. Maybe
it’s time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I’m passing through a phase:
gradually I’m changing to a word.
Whatever you choose to claim
of me is always yours;
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.
"Arpeggione" Sonata by Franz Schubert (movement 3)