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On the Approach of My Fiftieth Birthday
by David Matthews

On the approach of my fiftieth birthday,
I teeter on the brink of adulthood
And dubious maturity. Disinclined
To genuflect before the Dow,
Indifferent to possessions, but for books
And running shoes, downwardly mobile
And marginally employed,
I remain at heart
A card-burning member
Of the Far Left lunatic fringe.
I take my stand —
Poet by choice and by chance —
Chained to the wings of the sky.
Moonburned my brain cobbles
A lyric of grace. A mythics
Of rebellion adorns
My beat portfolio. Rumor and fate
Tolerate these ruins of rhyme.
I take my stand
With Milton and Blake —
Of the Devil’s own party — and know it.

I take my stand, my history writ
In the solitude of rented rooms
And the clangor and crush
Of bars where I have done time,
Arm in arm with friends
More stranger now to me
Than the ones whose names
I do not know.
There on the flickering
Silver screen of memory,
We hoist a pint to entropy
And hoist a pint to beauty
And step out to face
What demon-dog waits us each
At the crossroads in the deep
Dark of our night.

I write my history
To discover my history
In the song and dance of time.
Words faded on delicate pages,
Frayed and gray, bound by broken spines,
Fill the shelves of dimly lit
Back basement libraries of the mind
Where I roam — a student —
For the duration.
I write my history.
Dostoevsky at the roulette table is true
As Dostoevsky when
He imagines the Grand Inquisitor
And Bukowski at the typer
No more nor less true
Than old Hank recklessly eyeballing
That college chick whose eyes are flares
That bathe her face with a halo of promise
That reveals nothing.

I write my history
And stand minute before
Those sculptures in the garden
Au Musée Rodin,
Those chunks of bronze
Whose eyes are flares that bathe
Insensible stone with breath and reveal
The mystery that remains always behind everything.

I write my history
In the magic and dark of the cinema
When Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson
Lose themselves in one another in Persona,
When Batiste the mime
Leaves wife and son behind
And pushes desperately through
The festival crowd and cries
“Garance! Garance!”
And loses her again,
When Bacall tells Bogart how to whistle,
When young Jeanne Moreau
Races across that bridge
With Jules and Jim in breathless pursuit,
That is my history.
When the children cry out to Alyosha,
“Karamazov, we love you! Hurrah for Karamazov!”
When Rimbaud goes out in the morning
With a look so lost and a face so dead
That perhaps those he passes do not see him,*
That is my history.
*The three lines beginning "When Rimbaud goes out"
are adapted from the Louise Varèse translation of
Une Saison en Enfer in A Season in Hell and The
Drunken Boat (1961, p. 17). New Directions
Publishing Corporation.

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