A Bedtime Story

Accidents will happen. Still, in time,
The rigors of mortality will chill
The piping channels of the blood and spin
Around the brain a cold and covering skin.
Then one might not remember pain so well;
One could sit back, and life, if not sublime,
Would be a sleep to dream pleasantly in,
Enlarging on the heroics of one’s prime.

Nothing about longevity is heroic.
When he was eighty, Sophocles sighed, and said,
“This well loved instrument’s finally out of tune.
Well, I am old, and have my work.” And soon
Wrote Oedipus Rex, but in the night, in bed—
Well, it would test the most brave, the most stoic:
His genitals were wrinkled as a prune,
His nerves gone dull and every thought prosaic.

Then there was Stanley Ketchel, whose reckless love
And subsequent early death preserved his youth
And left his classic body middleweight slim.
Graceful and powerful we remember him,
His battering fists telling the brutal truth.
But there are countless tales. It is enough
To learn the fate of vigorous life and limb
And lose it in grandiose rough stuff.

Ah, if only the dawn had thought to ask
For something more, for supple muscles, say,
An ageless heart to keep the flesh and blood
Robust as well as living for the good
Of her fair-haired boy, who came to hate the day,
The endless afternoon, the endless dusk,
That left him frozen in his fossilhood,
His deathless eyes bright in his bitten mask.

The specter of an old man’s ugly phiz
Drifts in the gloom, wearing a dreadful smile.
Regard this silly ghost as he goes by:
Was he not thoughtless once as you and I
Of what must happen in a little while,
Who now despairs that he is come to this?
Shall you and I instruct him how to die?
Come close, come closer, kill me with a kiss.



From Collected Poems, 1952–1999. Copyright © 2000 by Robert Mezey. Published by University of Arkansas Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.