by Wendell Berry
I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don’t think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
—no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new—who has known it
before?—and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man. And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.
“VII.” by Wendell Berry from Leavings. © Counterpoint, 2010.
Berry evokes the way I feel. My once robust skin is growing very oniony. My veins, formerly subterranean on my skin, now pop up with their light blue wanness. Soon I will have lived with the same person for 50 years. Half a century. My ungovernable thick hair has thinned. I start to worry about bald spots appearing.
I remember leaving the house. When I was young, I kept my eyes open to see if there were any little girls close to my age around. When I was a bit older, I kept my eyes open so I could compare myself (negatively) with others or greater beauty, scope, and promise. Whether men, women, boys, or girls, I was looking for charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. And lots of brains. When I was a bit older I judged people by the books they read the the politicians they supported. Then when I had babies, I wanted to gape admiringly at every child. My eyes ranged for mothers with young children. Once or twice there was a father! Affinity of a sort, even if we did not speak.
My body is old and burdensome. I remember vividly what it felt like to be 4, 10, 18, 25, 36, 45, 57 and now I don’t know if 2011 was just a minute ago or possible 100 years ago. The mind has its own geography and chronology. 60 years ago I took my 5 younger siblings out on Saturday mornings to visit the Peabody Museum and its dinosaurs and dinosaur bones. How I was enraptured yet terrified when they displayed a mummy! In 1962 we would go off to look at the American debut of King Tutankhamun. It was vivid and it seemed to have the dust of centuries and African sand, transported all the way from Egypt. I dreamt of being a little Egyptian mummy and it made me cry—so much fate, so much time, so much of both drama and tedium it was to be a mummy. I felt the helplessness of the mummy and now I think that the young King Tut gave me one of my most enduring emotions about helplessness, hopelessness, and how peremptory and perfunctory time and death are.