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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Seventy; Self-Portrait; I Just Don't Have Time Today

By: Stephen Nathan


I don't recall the day I became wobbly,

when gravity moved in to stay with us

and surprise me throughout the day

with hints of injuries to come.

I never wanted a mate other than you,

certainly not one who delights in chancy practical jokes,

but here we are, 

accepting this inevitable arrival

as I prudently navigate these rooms

that I had never before given a passing thought.

Be careful.

Those words rattle around in my head

vying for a prime spot,

words that never appeared when I was a fearless child.  

I imagine it means my story is 

resolving itself now

as this machine-of-me concedes

to the wear and tear of a life lived 

as if it weren't exceptional.

I'd drink the orange juice

you'd squeeze for me, sweet and sharp, 

without once thinking what a gift it was.

How could I forget the tear I gave up

when you placed our son in my impatient arms that first time,

or the trips we took, nervous adventures,

the laughter that felt more essential than the air that sustains us,

the flowers you picked,

the bed we shared and made with our love

each time we wrapped ourselves in each other.

Each act

each touch


each kiss

wearing out this machine.

All this I remember now

as I carefully

(yes carefully) 

sink into the chair you gave me for some birthday that still lives in my wrinkled heart,

though the details, like most, are sketchy now.

And as I settle in,


feeling your touch in the cushions,

I wonder why I feel like I'm still beginning.


I set the mirror and sit.

It takes a dreaded moment 

to look up and be struck by the suspicion on our face

as we stare into ourselves with the arrogance of an inquisitor.

Because it's always an inquisition, this face-off,

even thoughtlessly passing a store window.

But a reflection viewed through a murky lens of need

never offers more than a dash of disappointment

with age, clothes, mood and so on...

And I'm after more than appearance now

as I force myself to settle 

and with rabbinical solemnity

study this image before me

and note that each breath I take 

seems stolen by this phantom-me

time ruling both of us as we gasp for another day

to understand our furrowed brow,

each crease holding some puzzlement or slight we can't make out.

Was it that funeral or the party that went awry

or a crumb of fear left over from childhood

or the million incomplete thoughts impossible to reassemble?

And how about those crow's-feet?

They must hold the laughter and tears that defined them

but the details 

are treasonously forgotten.

I strain to find when our face first learned of death

and what keeps the push of life aloft,

kindly lifting the corners of our mouth

in the face of it all.

Our eyes meet again and

we squirm at the absurdity of this exercise 

as if moments can be frozen and savored later

as if this mass of uncertainty has an answer.

Our pursuit hopeless,

we watch as our tears fall 

and we're left holding the mystery like a crying child we can never calm.

I Just Don't Have Time Today

I just don't have time today.


Not today when I slip down the mud soaked hill

and land on my ass,

with her laughing that laugh

that comes from a place impossible to find.

Sorry, but I can't miss that.


Nathan began his professional life as an actor (originating the role of Jesus in Godspell) but moved into a career as a writer in the late 70s. For almost 40 years he has primarily written for film and television winning, among other acknowledgements, the Humanitas Prize, Writers Guild Award, and two Emmy nominations. He has recently completed two plays which were both chosen for the reading series at NY Stage & Film. One will be performed this summer at the Durango Playfest.


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