Julia gave me a splendid gift for my birthday today. When I was a very young man in Manhattan, in my early and later twenties, I would pour over and plow through the book reviews and journals – all the epistles from the church of literature – including, deliciously each Sunday, the New York Times Book Review, in those days, under John Leonard, so much more seriously literary than now. I would cut out black and white print photos of so many of the twentieth century’s greats and excerpts of books and poetry collections, memoirs and anecdotes that captured my admiring and aspiring fancy. Apparently, years ago, I gave the folder with all of those clippings to Julia. I forgot that. I forgot I even had such a folder.
This morning, framed against blackboard, I received three arrangements of photos and literary selections to start my day, a summation of my life’s passion and a recollection of my youth in thrall to it. Heading one collection, cut from the subhead of the story of some other writer’s life, were these words: “All he wanted to do was be a writer.”
I don’t like growing older. I like it less than last year and only a little bit better than next. If you want to tell me that you celebrate the accumulation of your years and experience, hold your tongue. Julia says that, but she has special privileges. If you say it beats the alternative, you’re banned from the blog. In my annual acknowledgment of the day, I do not so much celebrate my birthday as attempt to lose myself in each year’s newly chosen festive balm. “Short Farewells,” by William Matthews, from one of those three frames, helped me begin this time, speaking of toasts to departures, in which “you hold a small mouthful / of wine on your tastebuds and let your body / meditate on travel, the saddest / of its pleasures.”
…Somebody breaks the silence
with a joke and then it’s done.
It hurts to age and part but it hurts worse
not to, to turn blue with held breath.
Rain falls on our scalps like the blunt ends
of pins. We wear our grief like an extra flesh,
but it is only pain. Those lurid paths
we blazed along, we fuses? They’ll cross
again if we should want. I’ll drink to that.