Teatro Greco, Taormina, Sicily. Photo by the author.

I’ve just returned from a trip to London and Sicily with my partner Samantha. It was our first trip overseas together, although we have both traveled extensively and each has lived in Europe at different times in our lives.

While traveling, we shared with each other memories of our past lives on and visits to the continent; some happy, some not so happy.

We couldn’t help wondering what our lives would have been like had we met earlier, say, in our 20s.

Of course, this is folly, we can never reclaim those years – neither would we want to lose the gifts that were given to us by those years, especially our children from previous marriages. We were also very different people then and, perhaps, we weren’t ready for each other.

This line of thinking, however, brought to mind Adrienne Rich’s wonderful “21 Love Poems,” especially poem number three, which is about falling in love at middle age.

As the poet and critic Claire Keyes has written, “When one is middle-aged, falling in love contains a quality of excitement and joy unavailable to the young.”

It is, in many ways, a quality driven by temporal finiteness. Again, Keyes notes, ”No longer young, the lovers must make up for time lost when they were not loving each other. They must not waste time because they do not possess the luxury of unspent decades. Yet this is not a lover’s complaint, but a paean to love at forty-five, a reciprocated love that gives birth to the image of the beloved’s eyes, which are “everlasting.”

Here is poem number three from Adrienne Rich’s “21 Love Poems”:

 

III.

Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time

for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp

in time tells me we’re not young.

Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,

my limbs streaming with a purer joy?

Did I lean from any window over the city

listening for the future

as I listened here with nerves tuned for your ring?

And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.

Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark

of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,

the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.

At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.

At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.

I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,

and somehow, each of us will help the other live,

and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

 

–Adrienne Rich, from “21 Love Poems”

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Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia)

My old friend and former decompositionalist compatriot, Penny Perkins, posted a gorgeous picture of a moth on Facebook today, which she misidentified as an “Endangered Emperor Moth.”

I recognized her mistake right away. The moth was, in fact, a Luna moth (Actias luna) and not Saturnia pavonia.

I noted this on her post in the comments section and also the fact that neither moth is endangered. She thanked me and then asked if, perchance, I had any poems about moths. I did or do.

(At least, I thought it was about moths. I’m never sure anymore what I was writing about when I wrote a poem!)

Here is my poem “Summer Love”:

The female cecropia moth,

Hyalophora cecropia, emerges

As in a stop-action film: swollen

Abdomen shrinking while wings

Rise, fill, and form.  Pheromones

Kick in, attracting a male from miles away.

They couple quickly—how easy love can be.

Linked like this, at terminus,

They are most vulnerable to predators.

They will stay this way, available

To each other, for hours—

Then vanish as memory fades.

 

–Scott Edward Anderson

Last week the delightful Scottish poet Elspeth Murray posted some photographs of a trail intersection on Twitter. She referred to it as “a Robert Frost type dilemma.”

She reminded me of my poem “Reckoning,” which describes another Frostian dilemma. Written almost twenty years ago, “Reckoning” is a poem about the difficulties that visit a young couple when one of them is having doubts about their path forward.

Sometimes the choice we make is the wrong one. Sometimes, even when our choice extends the journey beyond what we anticipated, it turns out the right one.

(I should say here that the couple depicted in the poem recently celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary.)

Here is my poem, “Reckoning”:

RECKONING
Camel’s Hump, Vermont, 4083′

I.

Your abacus of worries,
me, counting my own pace, afraid
of the one real thing
I’ve known in years–
Negotiating our vertiginous October,
up through birch, maple, oak, cedar, white pine;
granite rising like barnacles on a humpback.
How do you stay calm?
Conceit hangs from my pack
like an extra water bottle.
I have trouble listening:
Do you want to push me over the summit,
or knock me out with a chunk of granite?
The mountain is not mine, I fool myself
when I play the king.

II.

We get turned around, tricked by language:
The ring of civilization in “Forest City,”
or the sylvan slur of “Forestry.”
The wrong trail is the one I’ve chosen–
And through the muddle, darkness comes,
and fourteen miles is the double of seven.
We switchback over the mountain’s bulge
and bushwhack round its base,
hours multiplied by circumference.

III.

At last back at camp,
we learn to count on each other.
From the stone house meadow:
Our prankster’s rising hump.
We curse and praise its witchery.
On that rock-ribbed blackberry hill
of Vermont’s quiet reckoning, we
calculate the chalk silhouette
in a moonlit night’s
heavy charcoal horizon.

–Scott Edward Anderson

(This poem appeared in Earth’s Daughters journal in 1997.)