With apologies to William H. Blumenau, and perhaps to Robert Lowell as well, and to anyone from whom I have unconsciously cribbed a turn of phrase.
Perhaps by the back picket-fence
that edges the downslope untended;
or by the garage,
a dour shed with door-windows
no eyes peer through;
or by the bulkhead,
flat gray and sloped
above the dank steps downward;
the first leaf swirls and lands.
my grandfather serves
as tenant-king and head of household.
The leaf is his responsibility,
one more duty on the flannel-clad back
that has no chance to falter.
His are Finance, and Administration,
and Buildings and Grounds.
Fifty-six years old.
The sign-posts change and warp.
One child engaged, the other off at school;
the school-bus’ backfire bark is alien,
its yellow burns the eye.
The wheels fall off dynasties.
The Yankees rock and founder in tenth place;
eight thousands fill the Stadium.
Marchers throng in Washington,
the ghettos heave and erupt,
solid ground buckles
like a grave-shroud under weight,
a dank step downward.
Flash forward to my own autumns —
old jeans and cold cider,
on pace against infinity,
crisp gasping breaths
in the austere sun.
Autumn is the time of rebirth.
Have I got it backwards?
The slight back under flannel
has a steel core
tested by responsibility,
by the loss of a father too soon,
by Depression with its wrench and want.
Those who grow up
on a swaying deck
inherit the gift of balance.
Change and challenge endure.
Old enough to know,
young enough to respond,
my grandfather braces for turbulence
and looks forward.
Then, as now, the poets of the young
declare that times are changing.
Their fathers ask drily
what tipped them off.
Perhaps by the fence,
perhaps by the garage,
perhaps by the bulkhead,
perhaps orange or red or yellow,
the first leaf’s spark catches the eye,
a veined telegram of change:
“New seasons are coming.
Adapt or die.”
My grandfather does not stoop to receive it.
He’s already heard.