The Manchester Review
Ralph Black
Three poems
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Mid-Life Asceticism

I’ve given up the star chart
of my father’s death,
that fading constellation,
but not the moon of my mother’s,
gibbous and silver in the sky.

I’ve given up the ratcheting chorus
of tree frogs crooning the day
to a close, but not the lazy pulse of crickets
keeping the summer grass awake.

I’ve given up piling stones
on the earth to leave some sign
of my passing, though sometimes,
when no one is watching,
I toss sticks behind me as I go,
a trail to follow back, a game
to tire the hungry dogs.

I’ve given up my hands
down my pants, watching Grace Kelly
hail a cab on 7th Avenue, but not
Kate Hepburn swirling kiss-colored
Beaujolais in a long-stemmed glass
on her father’s front porch.

I’ve sworn off Rembrandt’s light,
but not Vermeer’s, and turned away from
Picasso’s scissors, though not Matisse’s.
As for the Brueghels, I’ve given up one
but kept the other, though I’d rather not say
which is the father, which the son.

I’ve abandoned phone calls and emails,
faxes and telegrams, but not
sweet gossip passed across the fence,
and not Post-its or shopping lists—
clues to remind me the way home every night.

As for sorrow and anger, I’ve booted
those old oaths halfway down
the basement steps, but I’ve held tight
to love, the anchorite’s anchor,
that deep clarifying drink, even though some days
my mouth comes away from that cup
thirsting for things that linger
at the tip of my tongue.

All this in less than a month
of sitting in a damp anteluvian cave,
a rock for a pillow, fistfuls of sand
to rub into my hair. All this as the years
come knocking, and the songs
drift away, and the dust swirls importantly
each time I go to the door.