One of the lessons of aging comes from the gradual loss of abilities – the slow withering of function that we all intellectually know to expect, but that still manages to take us by surprise. The day comes, like it or not, when we no longer are capable of doing those things we once took for granted. Sometimes we react to this loss with anger, at other times with fear, and eventually, with grudging resignation. As children, we are faced with a double dilemma: how to relinquish the vision of a once powerful parent to the vicissitudes of age, and how to deal with this specter of our own mortality. The following poem deals with these universal issues.
Building a Bookshelf
Your hands, grand rotting cathedrals,
buckskin inebriate Brillos, two huge cowcuffers.
I once watched them rend plywood, hammer spikes
into blocks, every test a fight, the carpentry
learned in the army. The black-white photograph;
your big mitts taped up and shoved into boxing gloves.
Now your hands are demented, they fly at buttons,
they skitter and slapdash, they are shells, relics
of purpose. We put together the bookshelf
plank by plank, and those airplane wings
are undecided, fumble with a nail, drop a hammer.
You with the tremor and the grip strength of irony,
with paretic limbs. Each screw excruciates,
won’t go in, won’t tighten. I take the driver from you.
You look to me to tell you next,
and I tell you what I never thought I would:
Let me handle it.