Not Years Enough


How many autumns more? I cannot guess.
How slowly thirteen moons go rolling by,
how achingly the thirty dozen days
count off the torn inked sheets of calendar.
Life wrinkles silently, by phases imperceptible
the skull and bones show through the flesh.
More than the other signs of passing
the shelf of unread books accuses me —
not years enough to read them all!
And all those books unwritten, languages
to learn the lilt of, music to shape
beneath the independent fingers —
millions of words and thousands of melodies.
No matter what, the end must come
before the final page is writ, the coda sung.
Composers dreaded to start their Ninth
of symphonies, but trembled all the more
when the Ninth was done, behind them.
How many symphonies would they eke out
before the unrelenting knock of Fate?

If only Sleep, that dark-eyed panda,
were less the brazen thief — if only dreams
could quicken the long drear nights
with more than a passing vision.
I do not need to dream-quest Mt. Yaanek —
a quiet study would do, a reading lamp,
a chair and a sturdy book. My ka,
my lazy double, my astral body
can lounge on a hammock with a Dickens novel,
lean over calligraphy in a Ming gazebo,
or browse through the night-locked Athenaeum.

Never too late to learn the names of trees,
of sleeping birds and withered flowers,
the Three Kingdoms’ heroes, the ladies
and lovers of The Story of the Stone.
Or maybe I’d walk with book in hand
barefoot in graveyard, a midnight reader
of horror tales, an epic reciter.

I’d make the dead listen to the Faerie Queene,
count on their fingers the knights and Moors
of the endless Orlando Furioso,
wear them out with the embracing lists,
the straw that stuffs the Song of Myself.
Maybe my eyes would retrace Shakespeare.

But this is Autumn: lamp-dousing time
for my waking self, long nights sliding
to the gravity of solstice, dead leaves
like pages escaping me unreadable.
Ah! War and Peace requires another reading;
Gormenghast requires slow delectation;
I want to read all Cooper’s novels again
in parallel with all Scott’s Waverly tales;
read Greek and Runic verse aloud,
along with forty years (count them!)
of Mighty Thor comics. How many operas
have I heard without the libretto before me;
how many Schubert songs just grazed
my consciousness without the poems there?
Projects unending to attend to,
not years enough to read them all,
not years enough to count them!

 — October 31, 1987, Providence-New York, revised 1990, 2011


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