difficulties of aging

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.


A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

16.2 (Spring 2016)


Fiction & Poetry



Back From Christmas Break
John R. Harris

A poem in blank verse probes the difficulties of aging as the speaker studies a home left very empty by his son’s return to college.

No more tip-toeing around a small house
While he sleeps late (recovering from college math)
During my hours of finest inspiration
Between dawn’s wince and noon’s broad stretch.
No more shared bathroom, premium sink space
Minimized, my old man’s sordid mysteries
Of tooth care elbowed toward my side’s basin
By young man’s hair gel, Speed Stick, and cologne.
No more competition for coveted towel racks.
No more showers with lukewarm water.
No more staggering down the hall at two A.M.
Only to find a locked door’s strip of light
Sealing the blessed Path to the Restored Void…
No more watering shrubs at two-oh-five
While hoping a random squadcar doesn’t pass.
(Why have we moderns banished the chamber pot?)

No more Sunday NFL as I sit reading.
No more Breaking Bad when I want to watch Pickers.
No more speech-challenged smartphone at the table.
No more stovetops smudged with midnight omelets.
No more leaving the kitchen door unlocked
Because he hasn’t returned when I turn in.
No more hide-and-seek for car keys after breakfast
Ending with burglar-pickpocket father
Snitching ’em from his pillow, like Santa in reverse.

No more of his skirmishes with Yorktown Mama
(“Maidservice without tipping is tyranny!”)
Concerning… the stovetop, piled-up unrinsed dishes,
Creaky sleep-shattering garage door, dirty clothes,
Cutthroat TV dramas, mud tracked in,
From athletic workouts to “get better” (always
Better—maybe a better scholarship next year),
Wrong vehicle driven, tank three-quarters empty,
The smartass phone at dinner—and the capital offense,
“I don’t get to see you.” Every night, she says it.
She doesn’t understand. There’s nothing of us two now
To see that hasn’t been seen long ago.
Young men home for break do not measure growth
With yardstick and pencil against the kitchen door.

But now he’s packed and left. Now peace is upon us.
No more arrhythmia as our clocks tick down.
Trash cans no longer overflow in odd corners.
The grocery list has recovered a hallowed brevity.
The monastery stirs its kitchen ash at dawn:
As dusk pads down the street, the carport rattles vespers.
Sleep returns to normal (a strict routine of waking
Cold after nightmares sparked from a thousand miles:
Tire squeals, glass shards, strobelights at the curb).
The laundry hamper slims down, its Christmas orgies
Replaced by ascetic winter resolutions.
The stovetop’s spic-and-span, while sinks shine empty.
I close the vents so his room won’t steal our heat
Unnecessarily. I lock up his door
From the inside, since a burglar would enter
There, if anywhere. (The streets can’t see his window.)
No more peering through that door to wish goodnight
As he studies some website on how to get better.
No more catching in my goodnight glance the caps
Collected on his wall from Little League and high school,
Or the plaques and trophies, or the team photos where sometimes
My youthful twin blushes unrecognizably.

No more brown gaze searching across the table
Without a blink and big as the Doomsday Book
For answers from my side (dishes and smartphone put away)—
My considered opinion on interest or investments
Or possible internships (a look I’d never seen
When he was still in high school, and knew that dads know nothing),
Recognizing in me, this time, more than I am.
I’d look down at my hands, as if their fingers tallied
Various market strategies… I, in our small house!
To see him gaze as if I held hidden truths…
Well, no more of that.

Maybe some day, for the breadth of another break,
There will be a little more.
But the times will grow rarer and briefer. He will play
His game at a higher level, or barely, or will not—
And move on, down one or another chute, as we all do.
Empoyment, house, family: when did any summer
Want apples that never ripen? Could I have imagined
That wall of summer caps would fit forever?
No… but my sanity is suspect; for I find
That I am appalled by this sacred silence.
Philosopher proud, I inured myself long since
To thoughts of the body’s death, and reasoned high
Above science’s trough, and found room for wings…
Yet I never spied orderliness stalking my back,
The stacked dishes, closed vents, scrubbed basins—
The hours clean and clear for wrestling white sleep—
Have all taken me by surprise. Oh, I’d known
That, one day, all would be no more
Of what we here and now consider all.
But unexpected was this trail of shaded
Come-no-mores—this grim triumph of order
Ticking like a clock that won’t run down.

To enter the kingdom of heaven, I find
That I must unlock that door against the thief.

John Harris is founder and president of The Center for Literate Values. His most recent book is Climbing Backward Out of Caves: A Case for Religious Faith Based on Common Sense.