Tim Metcalf is the author of three poetry books and the recipient
of numerous awards in Australia, most recently the Rosemary
Dobson national poetry prize. He has published since 1989 in
various literary journals and his work has been solicited in the UK,
USA and India. He has held jobs ranging from cutting firewood in
the bush to working as a flying doctor in the remote Northern
Territory. He is poetry editor of Australian Family Physician and
teaches the literature of medicine to Australian National University
medical students.

Middle Age Sonnets

Once brief, our life expectancy has turned
on us and properly expects returned
a 'Life'. Television's done its bit:
Switch off. Don mental joggers and keep fit.

Vicarious life through biography,
reading and discussing others' won't quite do:
video your own documentary,
take the grandkids and train them to the zoo,

or take a course at university,
build your intellectual prosperity.
If you don't want to feel dead, left out,
develop your own life to talk about.

You've years to face your spouse across the table:
take an extra subject if you're able.

To rebuild spiritual innocence,
vigour, even belief, we read the books
supposed to help, to extricate the sense
of helplessness, of mouths worked by hooks

reeling off the lines commercials cast,
snagged by TV's money maniacs,
left yearning for societies long past,
magic numbers, three, four, the holy twelve
of final suppers, juries, zodiacs,
months each year. Thirteens raise no fear of hell,

we have survived more Fridays than the fish,
superstition's frozen in the hold.
Hungry and afraid, who will brave this dish:
Godless empty space? So few are so bold.

Bone density, oximetry; each year
we need an updated dictionary
for our cares and our prescriptions for the fear
of, you know, the big one, it's a very

big one, yes, still one must carry on, what
else is there to do? Insure house and car,
health, life, income if you have it, if not
at least the children left: you got that far.

Encyclopaedias are inadequate
to iterate our maladies, that take
up a life of their own and fill our plate
with talk of bodies dead or on the make.

We pay for laughing with our crying,
and there's nothing left to life but trying.

A generation of individuals,
and now our inner spaces one by one:
grey wanderers of the nation's food halls,
imaginary nomads on the run

from one shop, one petrol pump, to the next,
trying to leave our excess body fat
on the shore; disappointed and perplexed,
that lifelong habit could turn out like that.

We know some foods that nourish the mind,
'take-away' means 'lie on the couch' to us.
Complacency helps to pass the time.
Hang politics. Let others make the fuss.

Individuals pass the bottle and a glass:
mass produced, fed up en masse.

That which is commonplace may lose
our respect: thus venerable age
can no longer command the youth, who
disdain their geriatric rage.

Contemporary helplessness,
learned and learn-ed indecision,
the sad nutrition of excess:
fight the dulling of your vision!

With more age we can do more,
exercise our brains and bodies.
We could do better than before
living on potato floddies:

sometimes to my middle-aging mind,
it's youth seems wise; old age resigned.

Boredom. Brings me straight to the point.
I know the standards to engage
in conversation; however disjoint;
the body language angles at each age.

Weather! Experienced of flood and drought
and all types in between. Look, the sky
is a social gift like booze. Living without
its clouds and birds would see our chatter die.

Talking children and their antics,
the elderly (their disintegration),
young parents trying to cope but frantic:
others live to save us from stagnation.

So bored sometimes you wish they'd snap your legs
and talk about you then, tucked up in bed.

Fortunate to see our children mature
into the adults we make of them,
a legacy that we must now endure,
as the victims of our stratagems.

What have we done to keep the beer flowing?
What responsibilities neglected?
There is no way to prevent their knowing,
to shelter ourselves from their invective,

and why should there be? We had history
and the education to learn from it.
We chose our leaders democratically.
If the body politic doesn't fit

what we have and have not done in defence
will be void, and we will face the consequence.

For Cavalcanti there was Love or Death.
Strange to me that Pound should countenance
the attitude, translate him into modern health
from sixteenth century irrelevance.
Was something wrong with Ezra's spleen? H.D.'s
shadows in the living room of marriage?

Love or Death, and nothing in between?
Expectations lessen middle age.
The years grant us time: to interrogate,
to retreat from ourselves in disarray,
experience the void, reintegrate,
accommodate the moving shades of grey;
to blunder and to wonder at the fuss;
re-live mistakes: this could be good for us.

Because I love you, I need to go away,
to find again my fondness, to regain
my need for you. Yes, my need for you.

This relationship, our ship, has lost its
relation; I mean, those abstract bits,
those mannerisms that defined we two.

Telling each other apart is no more
than an amusing occupation to
pass the hours a couple must: unsure
memory is teased, there's knots to undo.

When I look at you I think my love
is independence from independence
itself. When I push my hands in your gloves
I want to be like you. Independent.

Your love is middle aged, mature and sound,
therefore dependable. I know what you
are saying when you speak: no beating round
the bush, no games, just what we choose to do.

I had loved before, so I decided.
It was painful to discover myself
wrong. Youthful passion redirected, I
found depth in small town pubs and old-time song.

I follow now your conversation, your
wrinkles too: like certain words and phrases
they sometimes stay til morning: the garden
grit and sweat tracks emphasise our faces.

However wrinkled my grey matter, love,
I will be with you and not the stars above.

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