Poetry

On Turning Ninety

Edmund Keeley

It can be laughable
to stand in a room
and not know why
you came in there,
familiar as it still is
for the work you once brought
to lighten its dullness
now the best place
for putting things away,
so why do you still stand there
saying to yourself
what am I doing here?
turning over answers
none of which touch
what still seemed possible
so very recently,
replaced now by the gathering
of things not yet done
and the crowded mess of things
that once seemed important
stuffed into boxes
under the old desk
or piled in curious stacks
on shelves with no room left
and the date book open there
with fading addresses
but now so out of date
and the calculator needing batteries–
why did I come in there?
Yet there’s no point pretending
you can dodge the touch of nostalgia
rising as you wait for an answer,
this sense of a life that gathered
enough good moments to remain
cause for hoping the memory
of what really counted will stay,
the imagination’s awakening
and its flowering as time would have it
while teaching you the secrets of nature,
the green fields of loving,
the heart’s selfless companions,
the friends who remained faithful,
these gifts the gods brought
when they managed to glance your way,
and much else beyond understanding
since the luck of your arriving
and your staying this long
still to find those things
so worth laughing about,
so worth singing about,
after you discover that memory
has its own bargain with time
for what remnant life it can carry
whether or not you remember
why you happen to be
where your path has chosen to bring you
on any given day.

Edmund Keeley is author of eight novels, most recently The Megabuilders of Queenston Park. His translation (in collaboration with Karen Emmerich) from Modern Greek, Yannis Ritsos: Diaries of Exile, received the 2014 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. He taught English, creative writing, and Hellenic studies at Princeton for forty years.
Originally published:
July 1, 2018

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