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Men at Forty -- Donald Justice

Guest poem submitted by William Lucy:
(Poem #1647) Men at Forty
 Men at forty
 Learn to close softly
 The doors to rooms they will not be
 Coming back to.

 At rest on a stair landing,
 They feel it moving
 Beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
 Though the swell is gentle.

 And deep in mirrors
 They rediscover
 The face of the boy as he practises tying
 His father's tie there in secret

 And the face of the father,
 Still warm with the mystery of lather.
 They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
 Something is filling them, something

 That is like the twilight sound
 Of the crickets, immense,
 Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
 Behind their mortgaged houses.
-- Donald Justice
 From "New and Selected Poems" (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997).

 The Minstrels directory shows only two entries for Donald Justice, the
later one in 2003.  I only discovered him after his death in August, 2004,
in the subsequent mini-biography in the New York Times Book Review.  When I
read his collected works, I was moved by the everyday "normalcy" of his
themes, and the extraordinary depth of meaning he gave them through simple,
yet exquisitely and intensely well-crafted, American verse.

 The poem I submitted was a particular favorite, probably because I first
read it autumn as two forty-something October birthdays approached - my own,
and that of a buddy of mine who had recently lured me back into reading
classic literature and verse as an antidote for the ennui caused by writing
banker's English 10 hours a day.  (Thanks, E.)  The opening stanza of this
little poem perfectly captures the "gathering gloom" of middle-age.
Speaking of birthday poems, I found #225, "Poem in October" by Dylan Thomas,
the first time I googled into Wondering Minstrels; "his tears burned my
cheeks and his heart moved in mine."

 By a coincidence, the last poem read last Saturday morning (3/05/05) on the
WBAI-AM (New York) poetry program was also about time and age:  a Yeats'
mini-gem: "The Wheel."

 My submission was also a favorite because ...it's short!!! Maybe it was the
fourth-grade nun having us compose autumn haikus with Magic Markers on maple
leaves, but for some reason shorter poems seem all the more beautiful,
intense and memorable for their brevity, and for the skill needed to squeeze
the meter and meaning out of every syllable.  (I drafted this submission
before #1643, Stephen King's "IT" haiku, appeared on Sunday)

 With profound apologies to John Milton, it is just too darn hard to read
Paradise Lost on the city bus at rush hour - believe me, I tried!  I guess
10 hours a day of financial prose will turn anyone into a philistine -
except Wallace Stevens.

William Lucy.

46 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

artemis_in_distress said...

I really enjoyed the commentary on this one and it is a powerful
poem, I might add. The haikus on maple leaves and reading john milton
on a city bus cracked me up so hard i had to read it to my husband as
he immersed himself in Zelda for the Wii, sad to say he's read a lot
more books than me! He reads fast and furious! I read slow and
pensive, haha. I used to have this group on another acct that got
hacked and i had a heck of a time finding it again, thanks!

Jade

Josh said...

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