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Modernity


In the old days people got
old, and age diminished them
or not depending on how one thought
of age. Is age a number that
declines with mere increase, against
the grain of simple arithmetic,
in denial of the facts of the force
that brings the rings around the hearts
of trees wider and wider out?
Or is age a complicated way
to give time a true description,
and from that attitude to feel
a thought like an old fish in a pool
swim up, or rise like bubbles floating
from a turtle sinking to the bottom
of a pond? A long time ago
I knew a man named Jonah Payne
who, when the rural electric came,
had said he was too old to get it.
Yet he lived another forty years
or so, beyond the advent of
the age when light could be called forth
with a switch. He switched his fields around—
but that procedure took more time
and thought. By eminent domain
the towers and long transmission lines
divided the sky from the ground beneath it.
It was a mistake, said Mr. Payne,
to hitch up time that way, to take
away its weight and leave an instant.
These observations came to him
at night, when by the stars and moon
he rose to a ridge above the world
and the lights splayed below were few
and innocent enough to look back
at him like a creature whose eyes have for
a moment caught the light of the moon.
But even Jonah Payne, you see,
came to me in a dream, a light
in his own right reflected from
a moon that made its arc across
the sky of sleep—he was a man
whose age was older than his time,
and that is how it used to be.
But now it is another time,
a shorter one, without reflection.


Maurice Manning

One Man's Dark
Copper Canyon Press


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