Celebration, eighteenth of June! marking four dozen trips 'round the sun!
Who would have thought this muddle-headed oaf could have lived so long?
Life of pitfalls and triumphs, darkness and felicity,
Life whose several calamities have thus far not disabled me,
Life whose misadventures and mistakes do not outweigh the blessings,
Life which inspires gratitude oftener than dismay.
Can I complain about your weather, Birthday? You were much too hot for me!
A torrid toaster of a day which set Massachusetts abroil!
Cambridge wilted beneath the glare of a rude insistent sky,
No cloud balked the sear of the sun, no shade diminished the blaze,
The Common's parched grass groaned beneath the tonnage of summery heat.
Nevertheless, Miss H and I found our way to Epworth Hall
And heard Rebecca Neale read several of her poems.
There was air conditioning and good cheer in the room where Rebecca read,
A carpeted classroom or seminar-room of Harvard University:
Wine and cheese and carrot sticks, crackers and grapes and seltzer,
And forty of the poet's friends
Seated on black swivel chairs, comfortable, wheels on the legs,
All of us listeners eager, attentive, thirsty for lyric refreshment,
Gathered to hear the poems of Rebecca Neale's first book, slender,
Read beautifully by the poet herself,
Her generous dark chevelure streaked with a lovely silver.
Rebecca remembered it was my birthday and gave me a hug;
I was pleasantly surprised as we don't know each other all that well,
Only as fellow poets in a Boston-area workshop.
I lamented the fact that she didn't read my favourite poem of hers,
That lushly orchestrated paean to spring at the end of her newborn volume.
Nonetheless, you were a pleasant day, and I am grateful to you
For the joy of having been with Miss H to hear Rebecca's poetry,
And to celebrate the completion of forty-eight years despite oppressive heat.
Birthday, O Birthday, you deserve a better poem than this:
You deserve the vatic orotundities of Walt Whitman,
Or the wacky exuberance of something by Kenneth Koch,
Maybe a tone serene and reflective, in the manner of Wang Wei,
Or cadences as flat as the Nebraska plains, forthright as Ted Kooser.
I could write about my own advancing age,
Signs of wear and tear, the nugatory debilities,
Improvements in health made with the help of clinicians and support groups,
Twenty pounds and more jettisoned over the past few years,
Measurable reductions in the blood-sugar levels, more frequent morning walks,
I could proclaim my fathomless joy and gratitude for my friends,
Poets and neighbours, churchfolk and gals at the Book Rack,
Recent friends, online friends, friends from back in the day.
Luminous date on the calendar, midway through the year!
Despite my gawky voice, my gracelessness of gait, I make bold to salute you
With this rumple-trousered ode, this five-o'clock-shadowed cadenza,
This carol of awkward effusion, this hymn of glad-hearted gusto.