Dec. 18, 2006

At 65

by Richard Howard

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Poem: "At 65" by Richard Howard, from Inner Voices: Selected Poems 1963-2003. © Wesleyan University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

At 65

The tragedy, Colette said, is that one
does not age. Everyone else does, of course
(as Marcel was so shocked to discover),
and upon one's mask odd disfigurements
are imposed; but that garrulous presence
we sometimes call the self, sometimes deny

it exists at all despite its carping
monologue, is the same as when we stole
the pears, spied on mother in the bath, ran
away from home. What has altered is what
Kant called Categories: the shape of time
changes altogether! Days, weeks, months,

and especially years are reassigned.
Famous for her timing, a Broadway wit
told me her "method": asked to do something,
anything, she would acquiesce next year
"I'll commit suicide, provided it's
next year." But after sixty-five, next year

is now. Hours? there are none, only a few
reckless postponements before it is time ...
When was it you "last" saw Jimmy — last spring?
last winter? That scribbled arbiter
your calendar reveals — betrays — the date:
over a year ago. Come again? No

time like the present, endlessly deferred.
Which makes a difference: once upon a time
there was only time (... as the day is long)
between the wanting self and what it wants.
Wanting still, you have no dimension where
fulfillment or frustration can occur.

Of course you have, but you must cease waiting
upon it: simply turn around and look
back. Like Orpheus, like Mrs. Lot, you
will be petrified — astonished — to learn
memory is endless, life very long,
and you — you are immortal after all.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the filmmaker Steven Spielberg, (books by this author) born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1946). When he was a kid, Spielberg started making amateur movies with his father's Super-8 camera. He made two movies about World War II, and a movie about a UFO invasion, starring his sisters as victims. His mother helped with special effects by providing smashed cherry tomatoes for blood. He got a local movie house to show one of his films when he was 18, and he made $500 in one night.

Though he applied twice to the film program at the University of Southern California, he didn't get in, and he ended up going for a degree in English from California State University at Long Beach. One day, he was taking a tour of Universal Studios when he slipped by security, found an abandoned janitor's closet, cleaned it up, and turned it into an office. He discovered that if he wore a suit and tie he could walk right past the security guards at the front gate, and he began coming in to his makeshift office every day. He made a short silent movie that caught the attention of some executives, and that got him a contract to make TV movies. He was only 21 years old.

Spielberg's first feature-length movie, The Sugarland Express (1974), got good reviews, but it was a box-office disappointment. For his next project, he started working on a movie about a seaside town being terrorized by a man-eating shark. It was an incredibly difficult movie to make. The robot shark they used kept breaking down. They had to shoot almost half the movie on a boat. They went over schedule and over budget. The producers of the film had worried about hiring such a young director, and their fears seemed to be coming true. As the work on the film dragged on and on, Spielberg began to worry that his career as a filmmaker might be over.

But when it finally came out in 1975, Jaws made more money than any other movie had ever made up to that point in history. It's often been called the first blockbuster, because it was the first summer movie that teenagers went back to see again and again throughout the whole summer that it was released.

It's the birthday of playwright Abe Burrows, born in New York City (1910). Burrows is most famous for his contributions to Broadway, including Can-Can (1953) and Silk Stockings (1955). In 1961, he and Frank Loesser teamed up to write How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

It's the birthday of hymn writer Charles Wesley, born in Epworth, England (1708). He wrote the hymn that begins:

"Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire!

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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