Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Ages of Man’ monologue from AS YOU LIKE IT wrings well the rungs of lives’ ladders.
Here I attempted, birdlike, to make a deposit on each rung. Consciously choosing limerick form to lighten the Bard’s message, I ended up finding it all too sad for words. As did Shakespeare, perhaps.
Although the resulting limericks made me grin. Wryly.
To the bairn in the puked mules: You’re spraying
with no notion what your pa is saying:
You’ve no choice but Start,
so change diapers, gird heart
for the lead you’ll be ever less playing.
To the lad lusting after his teacher
while avoiding the lash of the preacher:
Your learning will swell
should you stay past the bell
and cosy up to your muse, should you reach her.
To the lover: Lad, be less remorseful!
Get a life. A cold shower. Be forceful.
have been trimmed or they’ve faded.
They’re not marks of the brave or resourceful.
To the soldier: You seek reputation
in a bubble of blood that a nation
offers every so often
to winnow its soft men
and harden survivors they ration.
To the justice: You’ve just et a chicken
with a quickness that followers of Wiccan
would deplore had they store,
but they don’t, anymore.
Since you sentenced them all, they’ve been stricken.
To the old: In your dotage you’re trilling
and your edicts which we once found thrilling
are unseemly at best.
You’ve become a weak pest
with a whistle inheritors find chilling.
To the oldest: You hang there forgetting
yourself and the bed you are wetting.
Missing teeth, misting eyes,
a lost sense of surprise.
If you knew, you would find this upsetting.
© Alan Reynolds, 2016
I follow thoughts that lead me to despair.
I take their hands and turn them. We head home.
They show me homes that are no longer there
if they ever were. Despair strips comfort bare.
Be rational, I think. That makes things worse.
At the end of time clear vision is a curse.
The jackdaw lands before me, caws my name.
It enquires why I am wasting hours moping.
‘You’re alive. Why are you kicking? You’re not lame
except in chances that you let escape by hoping
for a perfect world you are proof does not exist.’
I try to think things through. The jackdaw flies
before me. Wings beat on my dismal thoughts
until they are exposed for what they are.
I laugh and chase the morning and the bird.
The hill-hung house wakes to another day.
Behind it, up the mountainside I’ve climbed,
I stand inside an early-morning cloud
that waits for the rising sun to wipe it out.
The chiggers waiting in the Queen Anne’s Lace,
the ticks in the path, the web across my face,
and the thorns in every locust tree I touch
persuade me I have not changed much coming home.
But I who have returned am other than
the molecules I was when I ran down
the mountain to the college and the sea.
The flaking house paint shows me chalky grey
foundation boards the garden snails have slimed.
Beneath the porch where once a possum cowered
and played it died each time I’d jump or shout,
I see the wagon that we used to race
and I do my very best but still can’t trace
my old acquaintances. They used to matter much,
I tell myself, and scratch names in the loam
that covers where, back then, a small brook ran
from just above the house down through the town
in search of deeper waters, just like me.
I am not sure exactly who I am
nor precisely who it is that I am not.
We meet and mingle without smoke or sham,
then separate, but share a common lot.
Not empathetic any way that counts,
we are more a blurring of the borders books
ascribe to personalities: an ounce
of human-kindness traits, a pinch of rooks’
and God knows what. In forests I am trees.
On beaches I am cloud and surf and sand.
I am the universe each time I sneeze
and it is me each morning when we stand
on the bridge to all tomorrows, and the rain
comes down like prayer, and we begin again.
The fish caught seconds earlier, not dead
but less than happy in the summer air,
lies pressed upon the bank’s long grass and reed
until his captor cuts the hook with care
and tells onlookers while a fish may bleed
it can’t feel pain. Like it, onlookers stare
until it leaps. Then, noticing it’s free,
the fish regains the stream, the lake, the sea.
We too played fishers when our world was young,
and hooked whatever bit, and profited
for many noons, and now that shadows long
themselves for cover, we call salmon squid
and quid for quo stands for our marching song.
When you asked me did I love you, then I did,
and we, proud we had legs, took evening walks
investing energy in whispered talks.
What hooked us and we looked upon as love
while reeling, each of us, the other in,
was evolution, golden treasure trove
of progress down from mindless bug to sin
and up from there to faith in an Above
elusive as it’s precious. Don’t begin.
We’ve heard each other out too many times
and know what happens when one of us climbs
beyond our station. Our red-marrow bones
lack the air fillings of the natural flier.
We sink, in spite of aspiration, home
into the river. What was our desire
gels into habit, and inside our room
we throw each other’s papers in the fire
we hope will keep the creeping cold outside
with the dark we sense approaching our blind side.
The salmon who escapes the dam, the bear,
and anglers paying through the nose to kill,
spawns far upstream, at home for its last hour.
Depleted, safe, successful for a spell,
it glories in the sunset of its power
before the scavengers eat its free will
and its predestination, and its flesh.
So little of us passes through the mesh
of the nets that are our destiny, our death.
Descended from the fish who chanced on lungs,
we each, more relative each passing breath,
say absolute good-byes. As sapient beings
we think we know that absolute’s the dearth
of love and living, a sinking pond rock’s rings
that can’t feel pain. I hurt as I break free,
and follow you in stream, and lake, and sea.
‘I shall want chocolate biscuits served with hot white coffee.’
(I have been out half the morning harrowing snakes
with ‘adoring combs’. (That’s what the French maid calls them.
(The upstairs maid (‘adoring’ should be ‘Darwin’.
(I’m speaking parenthetically because
it’s Thursday up on Pluto which as a child I did adore.
Since it’s no planet now, adieu, no more.))))
‘The badger’s back. I see it in the garden.’
‘No, milord,’ the butler sighs. ‘A mole.’
I’m out of my depth. I debit depth perception.
I credit Cyril (the butler) with a win.
We are painting politicians’ faces on clay pigeons
for a garden party I have plans to give.
‘If that’s not the badger, that mole’s the badger’s twin.’
‘There are a badger, milord, and red squirrels, at the door.’
‘Well, let them in!’ I yell. The butler sighs.
‘You don’t get it, milord. They is wanting letting out.
Your castle is not the keep it was no more.’
I go to correct his grammar. The squirrels dash
the penultimate Ming vase on the flagstone floor.
I help the butler sweep up, handling broom
and crystal dustpan more than handily.
I think the badger likes me, but the squirrels
have convinced him all he wants from here is out.
There’s no pleasing some, so I cry, ‘Fetch the shotgun!’
I send the butler to the village for fresh shells.
The mammals go out with him. All ends well.