Lament of the Middle Man
In late October in the park the autumn's faults begin to show: the houses suddenly go stark beyond a thinning poplar row; the edges of the leaves go brown on every chestnut tree in town. The honking birds go south again where I have gone in better times; the hardy ones, perhaps, remain to nestle in the snowy pines. I think of one bold, raucous bird whose wintry song I've often heard. I live among so many things that flash and fade, that come and go. One never knows what season brings relief and which will merely show how difficult it is to span a life, given the Fall of Man. The old ones dawdle on a bench, and young ones drool into their bibs; an idle boffer, quite a mensch, moves fast among the crowd with fibs. A painted lady hangs upon his word as if his sword was drawn. Among so many falling fast I sometimes wonder why I care; the first, as ever, shall be last; the last are always hard to bear. I never know if I should stay to see what ails the livelong day. I never quite know how to ask why some men wear bright, silver wings while others, equal to the task, must play the role of underlings. "It's what you know, not who," they swore. I should have known what to ignore. I started early, did my bit for freedom and the right to pray. I leaned a little on my wit, and learned the sort of thing to say, yet here I am, unsatisfied and certain all my elders lied. A middle man in middle way between the darkness and the dark, the seasons have tremendous sway: I change like chestnuts in the park. Come winter, I'll be branches, bones; come spring, a wetness over stones.
Copyright © 2011 by Jay Parini. Used with permission of the author.
Jay Parini has published multiple collections of poetry, as well as novels, biographies and academic texts. He has received honorary degrees from Lafayette College and the University of Scranton and fellowships from Christ Church at Oxford University, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the School of Advanced Study (Institute of English Studies) at the University of London.
Date Published: 2011-03-10
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/lament-middle-man