Monday, July 17, 2006

Who Are These People?

Who are these people
filling a vast great hall,
on a humid July night,
under a thunder shower's
clamor and loud patter?
They are smiling bravely,
dutifully wearing name tags,
at the school reunion.

Who are all these old people?
I went to school with young people

I am feeling agitated, as I say it.

Who is this haggard woman,
her hair grey in streaks,
her face scrubbed to a blank,
excoriated with worry,
careworn with lack of peace?

She could not be
the classic Irish beauty
of flawless ivory skin,
glossy black hair
-- her merry, easy smiling
ever fixed in my memory --
that her name tag says she is.

She was not vain
when she was beautiful.
Now her sleep-deprived,
hypervigilant eyes stare out
at a disappointing, woefully
burdensome world
through the plainest black-framed
glasses. She is still slim.
Also, still graceful.
Still clever, though so wearied.
Still acerbic when she disagrees, quick
to trounce me, turn my jokes on me.

There are lots of bitchy Irish females here:
Helen The Crank O'Donnell, her impish cousin Madeline,
Karen Ryan, the Stout Mayoress of Small Potatoes, N.H.,
Maureen (No Longer) Young, and
Mary (Nevermore) Burns,
though once she did, and on a whim,
with little pretext, I can tell you.

All of them are perfected,
these poised bitches,
in their anxious defenses.
This one, once serene, Delia Coyne
(her name tag says she still is "the same")
was blessedly beyond them in her youth.
Now she is, too, dragged down inevitably
by the injustices of growing old herself,
while seeing her father demented,
anxious to grasp her hand, to know where he is,
while seeing her mother dying,
preserved like a corpse by chemo,
with just enough time left to say goodbye.
And her husband, thankfully,
is in another state somewhere
these past five years,
pursuing her classic beauty, perhaps,
in someone else.

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