“Take the Neck Step Against Aging”

By Craig van Rooyen

Featured art: Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666)

Today my wife bought a twin pack of neck-tightening cream
for me, and I’m trying not to take offense.

It’s not that I haven’t noticed the thinning crepe paper
over my Adam’s apple, or the way it bunches when I tie a tie,

but I guess I had hoped she would be my accomplice
in pretending. The book I’m reading’s called The Denial of Death.

It says civilization’s an elaborate symbolic defense mechanism
against the knowledge of our mortality. And yet I can’t help but hope

this cream will work. My wife learned from her mother
who learned from her mother, and so on, how the crushed

bark powder of a Thanaka tree, abraded in water and a stone dish,
will form a milky paste that protects the faces of the ones you love.

Do you know how it feels to have a woman massage her history
deep into your skin? So we pretend this is a Costco twin-pack of Thanaka

and that we have all the time in the world as she opens the jar,
warms the cream between her palms and wraps her slender fingers

around my throat. It’s one thing to try to bridge the basic duality between
the physical world of objects and the symbolic world of meaning

with neck cream. It’s another to trust a woman’s hands around your throat.
“Point your chin up,” she says, cradling my head in her lap.

I’m hoping we’re part of something eternal, but if not,
that the decline of our bodies will be gradual and in tandem, and

that we will continue to be startled every March when
the flock of cedar waxwings reappears in the clattering branches

of the apple tree outside our window. See how their little masks hide
fatigue as they settle in by the dozens, Lone Ranger faces all pointed

in the same direction. Just one night in our tree on their long trip
from the sun-lashed Yucatan to the tundra of the Northwest Territories

Craig van Rooyen‘s poems has appeared in 32 Poems, Best New Poets, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Northwest, Ploughshares, Rattle, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He lives and writes in San Luis Obispo, California and holds an MFA in poetry from Pacific University.

Originally published in NOR 28

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