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.
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.
wearing out this machine.
All this I remember now
as I 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.