Bio Note: In 1976, I moved with my family to Fairbanks, Alaska to teach for a year in the creative writing program at the University of Alaska. I’m still there. I’ve published seven books of poetry, as well as a collection of essays. My work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New Republic, and many other journals. For more information, visit my website: www.johnmorganpoet.com
Stray Thoughts On Aging
Is everything new about getting old? Spring and the melting snow, friends dropping away— they sift underground, or washed by the wind they circle the earth. Their names like chalk on a blackboard pose the daunting equation of loss. Yesterday I biked past the old beer and gun club, rechristened “Hogwarts,” to the edge of the slough where it joins the big river. No bridge for miles but a flagpole with pennants to summon a boat when somebody needs to cross. These blustery afternoons, deceptive in their beauty—bright hopes leading us on. Fish camp and then a hundred empty miles to the range where mountains like grandparents lounging on hammocks span the horizon. Clouds like winged lions—Assyrian. Is heaven open for business on days like this? And cycling back, a bull moose browsing the roadside willows turns his head and stares. He’s like that difficult cousin you can’t help liking despite his prickly ways. Brain circuits, axon and synapse, maybe we’ve got it all wrong, like those late night sophomore sessions when a light went on and suddenly everything changed. Are we our physical bodies? Are we anything else? If the body’s a river distilling the years, then a time-lapse camera could track this life, recording the snowballing wisps of decay, sloughed skin and hair, like mayflies flitting, having their day, while the waistline spreads like a delta toward the sea. It leaves a glow, a whisper, a caress. Remember that dusty floor we slept on before we owned a bed? “But why do they call it sleeping?” you said. Still there’s a pungence to this breeze, a whiff of bliss. Is heaven open for business on days like this?
My Portrait by Van Gogh
He scores deep lines in my face, the ditches I abhor, then brightens the blue and speckles the whites of my eyes. He twists my aging lips in a sardonic grin. “Don’t sit so still,” he tells me, “it’s a lie.” Compliant, I take out my pocket notebook, and begin by noting how his hair in crimson knots falls to the right and shows some scalp. His apron’s full of random strokes—the reds, the greens, ochre, and indigo of spattered paint and where he’s wiped his brush—which now he lays aside. His fingers lick dried blood. A violent sensitive man who drinks a tun a month and has the shakes. His visions of the fires of hell absolve him for the flashy whores he loves. My temperament is not like his. My second thoughts are milder than my first and then I think again. He laughs and spits and tells me to sit still—“Jackass, hold your pose!”— takes up a knife and scrapes away my nose.
To A Solstice Party In Fairbanks
A sun-swirl, egg-over-easy, with a swatch of rainbow colors left and right as the day-long winter evening fades, Orion riding shotgun on the night. But driving isn’t easy on the ice, and up a snow-packed hill the engine falters. I back up blindly, landing in a snow-berm with a jolt. Shaken, breathing deep, I’m taken by an old refrain: how beauty is allied with pain. The moon’s a flower through a cage of spruce. Stars seed the night. And soon a passing stranger stops and frees me with a push—they usually do. I shoot the hill again in second gear, but when I rush the turn—default— an unfamiliar driveway brings me to a cabin where a sign warns: “Killer Kats—Beware!” I shout, “Hello?”…“Hello?” The radio’s tuned to folk but no one’s home. So backing slowly down the drive I try the other fork… bright lights, a barking dog and voices, candles flaming on a tree (our hostess guards it with a pewter candle snuffer), as, perplexed at how the north’s adopted me, I place my cooling moose stew on the board.
©2020 John Morgan
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