Thirsting

Alicia Ostriker - 1937-
It’s not that the old are wise
But that we thirst for the wisdom

we had at twenty
when we understood everything

when our brains bubbled
with tingling insights

percolating up from
our brilliant genitals

when our music rang like a global siege
shooting down all the lies in the world

oh then we knew the truth
then we sparkled like mica in granite

and now we stand on the shore
of an ocean that rises and rises
but is too salt to drink

More by Alicia Ostriker

psalm

I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure

I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament

for I know you drink 
lamentation, too,
like wine

so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you

I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again

unless you ask me 

Exile

The downward turning touch
the cry of time
fire falling without sound
plunge my hand in the wound

children marching and dying
all that I do is a crime
because I do not reach
their mouths silently crying

my boychild reaches with his mouth
it is easy, being a mother
his skin is tender and soft
kisses stitch us together

we love as long as we may
then come years without kisses
when he will turn away
not to waste breath

when I too will fall
embracing a pillow at night
touching the stone of exile
reaching my hand to death

Insomnia

But it's really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself

you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep

buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought

and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you

asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window

traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won't mind death only dying

what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,

they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room

Related Poems

The Gardener

Since the phlox are dying
and the daisies with their bright bodies
have shattered in the wind,

I go out among these last dancers,
cutting to the ground the withered asters,
the spent stalks of the lilies, the black rose,

and see them as they were in spring, the time
of eagerness and blossoms, knowing how
they will all sleep and return;

and sweep the dry leaves over them and see
the cold earth take them back as now
I know it is taking me

who have walked so long among them, so amazed,
so dazzled by their brightness I forgot
their distance, how of all

the chosen, all the fallen in the garden
I was different: I alone
could not come again to the world.