Turning Forty

By Jonathan Galassi b. 1949 Jonathan Galassi
The barroom mirror lit up with our wives   
has faded to a loaded-to-the-gills
Japanese subcompact, little lives
asleep behind us, heading for the hills

in utter darkness through invisible
countryside we know by heart by light;   
but woods that are humane and hospitable   
often turn eerie on a moonless night.

Our talk is quiet: the week’s triumphs, failings,   
gossip, memories—but largely fears.
In our brief repertoire of poses ailing’s
primary, and more so with the years

now every step seems haunted by the future,   
not only ours, but all that they will face:
a stricter world, with scarceness for a teacher,   
bad air, bad water, no untrammeled space

or so it seems to us, after the Fall,
but for the young the world is always new.   
Maybe that’s what dates us worst of all
and saves them: What we’ll miss they never knew.

We’re old enough now to be old enough,
to know what loss is—not just hair and breath;   
each has eyeballed reality by now:
a rift, a failure, or a major death.

They landed on us; we were not consulted,   
although our darkest yearnings aren’t so deep.   
Let’s tick off the short wish list of adulthood:   
sleep, honor, sleep, love, riches, sleep, and sleep . . .

and camaraderie, that warms the blood,   
the mildest, most forgiving form of love.   
In an uncertain world a certain good
is one who’ll laugh off what you’re leery of.

That’s why we’re out here, racing with the clock   
through cold and darkness: so that, glass in hand,   
we’ll face our half-life, padded for the shock   
by a few old souls who understand.

Now the odometer, uncompromising,   
shows all its nines’ tails hanging in the air.   
Now an entire row of moons is rising,   
rising, rising, risen—we are there:

Total Maturity. The trick is how
to amortize remorse, desire, and dread.   
Eyes ahead, companions: Life is Now.   
The serious years are opening ahead.

Jonathan Galassi, “Turning Forty” from North Street and Other Poems (New York: HarperCollins, 2001). Copyright © 2001 by Jonathan Galassi. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: North Street and Other Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 20002001)

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Poet Jonathan Galassi b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Growing Old, Time & Brevity

Poetic Terms Blank Verse, Rhymed Stanza

 Jonathan  Galassi


Jonathan Galassi is the author of two volumes of poetry, Morning Run (1998) and North Street (2000), and the novel Muse (2015). Galassi is also an eminent translator of Italian poetry. He has spent over 25 years studying Eugenio Montale’s poetry and has published several collections of Montale’s work, including Eugenio Montale: The Second Life of Art: Selected Essays (1982) and Collected Poems 1920–1954 (1998). Reviewing . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Time & Brevity

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Blank Verse, Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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