Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Personal Thanatopsis

(Written for my 50th birthday, three years ago. Still salient)
One could look in the mirror today

And wonder if he has loved enough

And in the right way

Regret his foolishness and his failures

Wonder what lies ahead

What the sum will amount to


But why engage in vanities?

Should this moment be wasted on such things

As a puddle of fears?


Time is inescapable

As soon as I lift my gaze from the immediate

From this particular carrot I’m peeling for dinner tonight

And thinking of how it will taste with butter and lemon

I know it will not matter tomorrow

It hums its melody only today

And only to we three who share a table

And, come mealtime,

Will any of us even be paying attention?

Time claims its markers

Five decades!

Surely a person must do something, say something

Think something particular on such a day

Even he who wakes up alone

Making his best case for feeling useless and unloved

Must give it note

Feel more defeated than on other days, perhaps

Accept ignominy notably, not heedlessly


And what will I note?

Fifty years pass into the ether

Leaving so many traces of what was loved

And has passed on

Tragically or quietly or simply through neglect

We each can count the ways to oblivion


I walk my ten acres on an Indian summer afternoon

My son playing games of imagination

In the teepee he has made of fallen branches

And dried weeds and grass

Where he collects and caches the baby frogs of autumn

(So seemingly ill-prepared for coming hibernation)


And captures the mammoth praying mantis

Who, having laid her eggs for spring, munches the last leaves of senescent fall

And awaits the stopping of the clock

Is she the image in my mirror now?


The eastern white pine and the weeping willow

I carried to this place

In the Chrysler I bought to ferry my son in his car seat

Have grown improbably big

Defy me to remember the 2-gallon pail

And the stakes that nurtured them

While the car has meanwhile met its obsolescence

And lies barely in the reach of recollection


I prune the beginnings of a hedge

And curse the deer, my enemies

Who leave me gaps where my effort must begin afresh

New seedlings must be planted


I dream that the hedge will line a driveway

And the driveway lead to a house

Where days of retirement might be spent in some version of bliss

If only time grants me that circumstance


But really there’s just today

And the single aspect that fully lives now

Some talent I cultivate and consecrate

For keeping an image in my head

Of things that matter

And might be brought to pass

With enough devotion and faith

And conviction that it connects to someone else

Even if they have to be cajoled


I find it hard to believe in a heaven or hell

Where a tale will be written of my actions today

Or actions of a lifetime

Where eternal and particular consequence

Attaches to something so anonymous as the fleeting days of my life


And while the poet urged me take my solace

In company with the molecules of the earth

Where all the living come to communion, in time

(And where, in time, I know I’ll gladly go)

Part of me still seeks a moral resonance

A difference in the world that might proceed

From what I have chosen or done


And the only one I am assured of is this:

That I can hold a picture in my mind

And insist on a frame

And say to someone who might listen, “Look at life!

Smell the leaves of October!

Take note of the company one can choose to keep.

Just for the asking.”


My son says he’s adopted

And I am his guardian only for the present

But someday he might admit

There was more to it than captivity

And someday he may choose and frame

His own October day

And look at it with love and hints of celebration

And feel gratitude in a deep way

That the day was given and well-spent


I will be with the worms and the molecules

Not with him or the company he keeps

Except, perhaps, in the imitation one might see

In the movement of two hands

Holding a frame up to an aspect of the world

And thinking the words

“Precious.  So precious to me.”


R. S. Hoffman

October, 2011

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