Lines from the Book of Days

by Deborah Pope

Age. How to think of it.
Time between not yet
and never again,
between the mezzo piano
and the mezzo forte.

Thinking ahead    what haven’t I done
to the next     what haven’t I done
through the decades and the door
that opens suddenly on space,
time like a mechanical stair
unstoppably moving,
its metal mouth biting
the treads off, shutting
the lights off
closer and closer.

I had expected more perspective,
I had expected more calm,
more of the dusk-lit fermata
of reflection, I suppose.
To know whom and what I loved
seemed little enough to ask.
I looked for more permanence
in these matters.
I am surprised, looking back,
how easily some things fell away.
I am surprised, looking back,
how much the doing of one thing
was the not-doing of another.

I had thought my desires,
like clever children’s toys,
would be self-correcting
and age-appropriate.
I had thought the choices
would be clearer,
that there would be more of them,
that when I came to those
forecast utensils in the road,
the trails would be cut,
signposts appear,
and the implements would be as predicted,
not the rusted cleaver I found.
I thought I would have some answers,
and I do, but for nothing
I am ever asked.

Where is the pattern
time promised to disclose,
the tapestry, mural,
the steady accretion of design?
It is all so partial,
so improvised,
only pieces of things, scraps
awaiting their shape and dreaming
their fate, like an old country doctor,
is somewhere still lugging his remedies
and tincture-pouch of possibles.

An angel has begun to speak with me,
a fact it is wise to avoid mentioning
in therapeutic situations.
She is kind but direct with me,
now hectoring, now forgiving,
delivering her lessons of mercy and voice.
I am grateful when she comes,
a long-distance caller, my foreign correspondent,
startling me in my head
like a roadwork sign
scrolling and alerting
bridge out     lanes narrow
signalman ahead

Sometimes I think I am growing invisible,
becoming the color of air.
People, seasons, ownings
more and more pass through me.
I am lighter than I have ever been,
more foolish, more longing,
wrong about so much.
I did not know I could possibly feel
as if nothing had happened yet,
as if it were only now beginning,
breath rising, eyes lifting,
fingers opening for their first
wondering touch of the world.

Deborah Pope has published three books of poems, Fanatic Heart, Mortal World, and Falling Out of the Sky, all from LSU Press, as well as one volume of criticism, A Separate Vision: Isolation in Contemporary Women’s Poetry (LSU, 1984). She edited the collection Ties That Bind: Essays on Mothering and Patriarchy (University of Chicago Press, 1990). Currently, she teaches at Duke University.

Poem from Falling Out of the Sky (LSU Press, 1999).