Pre-Middle Age

The following poems were read side-by-side at an event called “Cannon Beach Writes” in Spring 2008, and were much appreciated. Here I share them side-by-side again…


If childhood is a cradle of universal arms
and middle age a turning back—needy
or humbly surrendered; if old age the return,
and death a womb of dust, “pre-middle”
is life’s showdown with illusion.
We are discovering, my friends and I,
that we will never be as fearless or brilliant
or big as we thought you would be when
we grew up. We are acquainted with panic.
We know how it feels to betray others
in order to survive. We have faced our bodies’
first shattering, felt marriage plunge
like a canyon in the gut.
Pre-middle is watching the slow and stealthy
burial of our youth in fat and worried skin.
It is realizing our friends do not know us.
It is seeing our flaccid ambitions
as the ego-trips they are. It is watching
history repeat itself at least once, and
ourselves the mistakes of our forebears.
Pre-middle is discovering that the feet
we stand on are not our own.
It is seeing that the ground we stand on
is really nothing but grace.
{2005, Tricia Gates Brown}


One Who Lived
A thousand baby maples dot my lawn,
a host of happy helicopter-seed landings—
two-hearted, single-minded and strong. Blood
red stems: lifelines. A maple now grows
in the crack of an old swing I ride
when evening light shines amber on the canopies
of trees, magical as a Marrakesh market. The gutters
of my house sprout maples, where seeds found
fecundity in the muck of home-neglect, in
rotting layers of leaves—each a tiny flag
twitching proudly on the wind. Last month
I carried home a tray of marigolds. Dug my
careful holes, placed each start in jet-black loam
(two bucks per cubic ft.), watered them by hand,
monitored their steady decline. I’ve failed
at marigolds before. Soil too clayish, chickens
too predatory, shade, too much. It’s almost
a challenge: to make thrive the few that remain
shielded in pots on the patio. Prized and
preened. I want to be a maple, not a marigold.
Don’t want to be Ophelia, Virginia, Sylvia.
No, make me an Eliot, a Walker, Lamott. I want
to grow, to sprout in adversity. Make
me a maple. Make me one who lived.
{2004, Tricia Gates Brown}

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