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On the Approach of My Sixtieth Birthday
by David Matthews

On the approach of my sixtieth birthday,
my future is for the most part behind me.
No matter.
It is 1968 in my heart. 1789. 1848.

The barricades stand a ruined splendor
stained with rumor of what might have been,
the air splintered with shrieks of battered trumpets
and ashes of dreams.
Rags of a maimed vision trail along behind
the footsteps that echo down each passing day.

Scraps of memory besiege me,
moments I know I got everything wrong
in a life that once held promise.
There is no going back.
Light flickers, fades, comes bright again,
in the end extinguished by shadows of doubt.
Nothing is due us.

They say a good muse is hard to find,
and not any old muse will do.
I reckon I have found a few
by chance or fate
and hold them dear.
Danton and Camille Desmoulins
bare their necks and wait
the fall of the big blade.
Shelley's boat goes down in the storm.
Nietzsche collapses on the Piazza Carlo Alberto.
Dostoevsky writes in the fierce winter of his spirit.
Emily Brontë, young, pale,
is fierce herself as any wind
that blows over the track
where her own footsteps would be leading.
The sun slants a cockeyed spray of light through cloud,
and there is Emily Dickinson to whom I came late.

I turn and turn again
to these exhibits on display
in the gallery of the mind
because that is what I have and am,
an adventure of intellect and spirit
not so much embarked as stumbled on
in faraway evenings
devoured by books and ideas,
poem, cinema.
The colors of Monet peacock the night.

With the dawn of this day
I step out into the glorious brightness
of what might be
to follow bandanna dogs and harmonicas
through the jingle-jangle morning
where white-haired Asian men and women do t'ai chi
in a little park behind a church
while a white-faced mime
holds a red flower to his cheek
and the cries and laughter of children
wash over us all.

I took up the pen as others the sword,
Kalashnikov, cross, and I wield it still,
with Keats see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired.
Intimations of beauty endure luminous
in delicate embers and evening skies.
We are bits of dust on fire with dream.


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