By Gregory Djanikian
Featured Art: The Collector of Prints by Edgar Degas
It was never a question of age, finally.
Time for him had always moved
too slowly, wasn’t he faster than time,
outrunning it whenever he wished?
Even now, he could hear the sound
of every second before it clicked.
Oh, he was powerful enough,
still wildly aerodynamic, able
to leap imagination itself.
But he’d grown weary of it all,
the adoring looks, the caped crusading
in the name of righteousness and truth:
hadn’t it frayed a little, lost
its gleam through the turbulent years?
Nothing had changed really,
annihilation, ruin, the horsemen
of every apocalypse still riding through
like bad cops and pestilence,
knowing where everyone lived.
And his own life, emptier now
with so many friends gone
or on the way, Jimmy, Lois,
doddering in their last stages
in a metropolis of fear.
Even his shadow-self had had to die,
mild-mannered to the end, grown
stooped, with failing eyesight.
Who would he be tomorrow?
Car salesman? Auto mechanic?
It was all greasepaint and mirrors,
so many cheap parlor tricks
everyone seemed fooled by.
What he wanted more and more
was pouring himself a drink,
turning the TV up like everyone else,
some canned laughter for the road—
and always, there was too much road,
too many voices buzzing in his ear, asking him
for liberty, for justice, things that required
Frankly, he’d always been better
at disasters, a couple of earthquakes
to attend to, some small-time hoods.
And a beautiful woman on his arm
with a bird’s eye view of the earth
that could still astound.
Sometimes he found himself lying back,
scanning the night sky without X-ray eyes,
without the hair-trigger hearing.
He liked not knowing what would come next,
feeling his head against the ground,
his palms cool on the moist grass,
being able to see only as far
as the darkness would allow.
Gregory Djanikian has published seven collections of poems with Carnegie Mellon, the latest of which is Sojourners of the In-Between (2020). His poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies and have been featured on Fresh Air and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He was for many years the director of creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania and now lives with his wife, the painter Alysa Bennett, near Philadelphia.
Originally published in NOR 6