Where’s the young man gone,
who lived in mirrors so long?
Putting old masks on.
This was published in Asses of Parnassus, a most worthy site for short verse, especially the flippant, frivolous or sarcastic. “Young Man” seems to be a theme I keep returning to, probably because I keep having birthdays. It’s easy enough to feel in your early 30s when you’re climbing a tree to pick fruit, or swimming, or reading; but a mirror may offer an unexpectedly different opinion.
Technically a loose sort of haiku, this poem meets the requirements of 5-7-5 syllables and the volta between lines 2 and 3, but hardly addresses a season and its sensibilities. The rhyme and near-rhyme of the three lines is not something required in Japanese, but seems to me to be necessary in an English haiku to make it a poem, i.e. to differentiate it from 17 syllables of prose written over three lines.
Death will be harder now, as, year by year, We solve the clues of immortality: Emotions sink to animality As false hopes tighten screws of desperate fear. Hormone control will make age disappear— After false starts, most horrible to see— But those already old must beg to be Frozen for the genetic engineer. While war, starvation, pipe Earth’s gruesome jigs, Successful businessmen will fight to gain Some dead teen’s body, to transplant their brain, The already-old beg to be guinea-pigs. Children, look back, hear our despairing cry: We bred immortals, but we had to die!
This sonnet was originally published in the British quarterly Ambit in 2007, back when the amazing pediatrician and novelist Martin Bax was editing it and accepting formal verse. Perhaps the best-known piece Martin published was J.G. Ballard’s “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race”…
But although the poem’s subject-matter seems current, it dates from 1982 when I was first becoming aware of cryonics and the speculative thinking around genetics and nanotechnology. I believe if a person is truly aware of their surroundings, they are going to be aware of both their historical context and their possible science fiction futures. Otherwise, to repeat, they aren’t truly aware of their surroundings.
As Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” He couldn’t have imagined our present world. The rate of change is accelerating. I doubt anyone today can imagine the world a hundred years hence.
And when I reach the end,
numbers and words all done,
have to be fed and dressed again,
I’ll love the birds and sun.
This little poem was published recently in Bewildering Stories, and I like it for a couple of reasons: its simplicity (echoing the simplicity of the states of beginning and end of life, the simplicity of the basics of being human); and its completeness – it covers an entire life, and I can’t think of more words that could be added; and the formality, not only of the simple rhythm and simple rhymes, but of the structure, the line-by-line echoing of the beginning of life in the end of life.
For all these reasons it is an easy little poem to remember and recite, and that is satisfying in itself.