Youth Is a Passage, Aging’s the Play
Jack Butler

                                     What was single when I was young
                                      is now the yoking of contraries;
                                      what was wildly divergent then
                                      now never varies.

When I was a boy, spirit and meat were one:
Scaling the top of the rock,
I ruled as lord of the air.
Now I unravel:  purpose more pure, more clear,
perhaps, but embodiment failing—strings gone slack,
pulses erratic, slow crumble of bone.

Form and nothingness were distinct, forever
opponent.  Now whatever
momentous course I intend
falters to measureless faintness like a river
dissolving to ocean.
Motion is stillness and stillness motion.
The straight runs crooked, the curves unbend.

                                     Now love is the same from day to day,
                                     a pleasure which culminates in duty,
                                     to which one is faithless, come what may,
                                     transfixed by beauty.

Nothing was sweeter than the lips of your lover,
all that delicate factual touch,
acceptance of glisten, mucus, tumescence, a frankness too much
for the fastidious individual.

Better to share
the freed-up energy, frolic together in clover,
innocent, naked, spared your habitual
massive despair.

                                      The universe they taught in school
                                      was elegant, orderly, and clear,
                                      inhumanly vast and beautiful,
                                      and of course austere.

Now it seems a breathing tremendous thought,
quick with gesture and ghost,
in us and through us, by means of us,
the spring of pattern but not its law.

The value of calculation is to note
the infinite scale of awe.

That such a creature could exist,
or that one could fathom somehow the bottomless
are equal marvels, and likely the same.
How can we know what has no name?

                                      The self which gave me reason to live
                                      performed as simply as spilling water;
                                      now I can think of no reasons to give
                                      or why they would matter.

What if the self, as sages proclaim,
is only a useful fiction?  What if body and brain
conjure from nothing discrete existence—
a local habitation and a name—
what if they foster ego and time and distance,
appearances all, and so sustain
viewpoint as heartbeat sustains the mind?

Seems probable, doesn’t it?  Well,
then self would be mutable,
decaying, defined
but transient, a ripple uplifted against a river,
 a dying man thinking to tell
what lives forever and therefore forever
remains inscrutable.

                                      Singing alone is what it was
                                      back in the days when I began,
                                      which is why I mean to keep on singing
                                      as long as I can. 

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