When I wrote this poem, I was much younger. There was irony and humor in it. But in the last few years (how the hell am I 66?) it races closer to the bone. So, here again is one of my favorite poems I've ever written.
The Trouble with Finitude
I try, from time to time,
usually late at night after one too many glasses of wine,
to consider my mortality.
(I have been led to believe
that such consideration is valuable
in a spiritual way.
God knows where I got that....
Well, of course, God knows,
I'm just not sure.)
But try as I might, I'm not adroit at such thoughts.
It seems to me that I have always been alive.
I don't remember not being alive.
Granted, I have no personal recollections
of when most of North America was covered by ice
or of the Bronze Age
or the French Revolution
or of the Black Sox scandal.
But I do know about all that through things I've read
and musicals I've seen
and the History Channel.
I know, intellectually, that I've not always been alive,
but I don't know it, as they say,
“in my gut”.
(What a strange phrase that is,
since I am sure my 'gut'
is a totally dark part of my body,
awash with digestive fluids
and whatever remains of the chicken and peas
I had for dinner and strange compounds
moving inexorably—I hope!--through my large
and small intestines.)
My problem is this:
I have no emotional connection to finitude.
All I know and feel is tangled up with being alive.
Dwelling on the certainty of my own death
is beyond my ken, outside my imagination,
much like trying to imagine
the vast expanse of Interstellar Space
while living in Connecticut.
So, whenever someone suggests that
I consider my mortality,
I screw up my face and breathe deeply
pretending I am imagining the world
without me alive in it.
What I'm actually doing is remembering
things I seldom remember--
my father's smell, an old lover's face,
the feel of sand beneath my feet,
the taste of watermelon,
the sound of thunder rolling toward me
from miles away.
Perhaps when I come to die
(Perish the thought!)
there will be a moment, an instant,
some flash of knowledge
or a stunning realization.
“Ah,” I will say to myself,
just before Oblivion sets in,
“this is finitude....”