Our First and Last Day on Earth

Renowned poet Charlie Brice is getting older. Bolder. Brighter. Lighter.

Or just more aged.

Upon turning 70, he lost his sight and then his hearing. Or was it the other way around? He cannot remember.

From Charlie comes four flashes of one night:

Four Haiku

At night in bed my dreams
        hide behind a glass
               of cold water.
My sweet wife is
     seventy-five years old.
            Raindrops splatter the skylight.
We sold our lake cabin.
      The Milky Way,
            a blended blur of light.
Gnarled fingers struggle
      to twist the jar lid.
               A lily lives just a day.

Charlie Brice made his living shrinking brains. He wasn’t a psychotherapist. The dude was a psychoanalyst: lie down and say what comes to mind. Now he attends to other matters.

Cleaning Up Cat Puke, Naked, at 70
When I was 5, I wanted to be a fireman:
point the hose into the blazing window,
save the beautiful lady from a horrible death.
At 7, I gazed upon the waxy but peaceful face
of my dead cousin, a rosary wound through his
fingers just so. I wanted to become a mortician.
The smack of a ball on the end of my bat
sufficed, when I was 10, to set my sights
on a professional baseball career.
At 14, The Beatles and James Brown replaced
the blood in my veins and produced kick
beats that made me into a musician.
When I was 18 Plato, Nietzsche, and Sartre opened
a world of thought. I planned to pen a philosophy
tome so original there would be no footnotes.
At 20, I discovered the vagaries of the mind. I became
a psychoanalyst and hoped to write twenty-five
volumes of theory—one more than Freud.
For 35 years my patients graciously invited me into
their psyches, but I quit at 55 and became a writer,
my most ardent professional love to date.
Today, at 70, fresh from the shower, I discover a mound
of cat puke on our bedroom floor. Armed with paper
towel and disinfectant, and still naked, I clean it up.
I know, then, that I’m exactly where I belong: naked,
cleaning up cat vomit, at 70 years of age, in the house
where my wife has lived with me for 46 years,
where we raised our son to become the finest man I know—
where the furry being who produced this putrid
puddle carries no grudges, and neither do I.

Age is unkind to our cultural references. No one can truly know how brilliant Prince was in the 1980s or Stevie Wonder in the 1970s because the experience of listening to those geniuses in their times can be had no more. In the same vein, few of us today have any idea what Vitalis is (it’s a greaseless pomade invented in the 1940s), or, on a deeper, more intellectual plane, how wondrous P.A. is.

Sandwiched in between an advertisement 
for Vitalis and McGregor Corduroy Jackets
an Ad for “The National Joy Smoke”—
Prince Albert Pipe Tobacco in the Pages of Time
Nostalgia Magazine for the year of my birth: 1950.
A man plays the piano with a pipe in his teeth
while a woman looks adoringly at him:
“Yes,” the text reads, “They’re in perfect tune.
You can tell by her admiring glance that
he has P. A. (Pipe Appeal).” Twenty-eight years
later I give up cigarettes and turn to a pipe,
but I don’t smoke Prince Albert because
it’s cheap and indistinguishable from the
cancer causers I’d abjured. I smoke
Hayward because it smells like stuffy
offices of literature professors at Oxford, or
how I imagine they smell. Did I have P.A.?
My cardiologist didn’t think so. When he smelled
that academic aroma he stood like a Torah
prophet and pointed toward a dumpster:
“Throw that thing out!” Abe Friedman intoned,
channeling his biblical namesake’s tormentor.
“Kill your fragrant darling!” I processed to
that nasty dumpster and cast my briared
appendage into the nascent fiery furnace.
At home I told my wife and son that I’d
be crazy, crabby, and cantankerous
for a month. Would they understand?
They did. We three survived my 30 days
in a smokeless desert. I miss my pipe appeal,
especially when I fantasize teaching a group
yearning to be erudite, or merely to place a few words
in the right order. My appeal is reduced to imaginary
patches on the elbows of my corduroy jacket
from McGregor’s, stained with Vitalis.

Thank you, Charlie Brice.

That line, “A lily lives just one day,” from his fourth haiku (above), haunts me to no end. Pictured at top of page is a day lily; my father, who passed recently used to tell me that day lilies were one of the few crops that would grow in the rocky hills of his home village. The people of Western Hunan province in China would eat them.

It was kinda like my father’s version of the proverbial walk-uphill-to-school-both-ways-through-snow story: all we had were day lilies to eat.

But if you and the day lily had only one day to share together, what could be more beautiful a communion? — Irwin

Charlie Brice’s poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta ReviewChiron ReviewPlainsongsI-70 ReviewThe Sunlight PressAnti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere. He is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), An Accident of Blood (2019), and The Broad Grin of Eternity (forthcoming), all from WordTech Editions. If you like his poetry, buy his books, and if you want more of him on Catbird Lit, subscribe via Patreon and note that you love his work.

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  1. Jim Hutt

    Magnificent on all levels, even the horizontal ones, by both Brice and Irwin—(a good name for pipe tobacco, actually). Blessed are we all that a poem lives longer than a Day Lily.

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