A week from now I shall be one year older than I am today. Because we only count the passing of the anniversary, like the laboured ticking over of a mileometer, a whole year's aging smites us on this one day.
And, though I have long sought to deny the passing of the years, and have flattered myself that I can usually pass for 5 or 10 years younger than I really am, even this is becoming a feebler consolation. I long ago passed the half-way point on my advance to the traditional span of 'three score years and ten'; now, even at the most wildly optimistic estimate of enhanced life expectancy our generation might get to experience, I am well beyond half-way to my end. In all probability, I'm more like two-thirds done. And it is a depressing fact to reflect upon.
Can the eternally effervescent Billy Collins cheer me up? No, apparently not. But perhaps he can at least cheer me down in a useful way. I find it useful sometimes to accelerate my slump into a morbid depression because the momentum will usually carry me out the other side faster as well.
If I get this out of my system now, I might be able to enjoy my birthday next weekend. Maybe.
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
Billy Collins (1941- )