I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.
This morning I caught sight of more gray hairs in the sink after shaving. I turned each side of my jaw close to the mirror for inspection. Surprisingly, I felt a smile come over my face, no fits of frustration at my visible signs of aging. Is this placid state my version of grin and bear it? I should be raging, right? I smacked my cheeks with aftershave cologne, to wake myself up to old anxieties. Good or bad, my silver hairs are a manifestation of next stage Major.
Along with this unseemly spirit of acceptance, I notice I feel more, and deeply; of late, my dominant emotion is profound gratitude. I’ve seen this period before; I watched my grandfather become inexplicably teary-eyed reflecting on his life. We didn’t call attention to his watery eyes, knowing he’d seen some things.
Today’s poem draws attention to that moment in our evolution, when we feel ourselves closer to our true essence, especially in the presence of others.
by Sandra Alcosser
I know where the mourning cloak Butterflies come from I know where they go I say to my beautiful black-Irish friend As we lunch in a cavernous Palladian Café where moments ago she closed Her eyes and rubbed her palms together As I asked about her happiest moment so Far this year—She’d driven up the coast From LA in a brand new sea foam Fiat and she mouths its color—Verde Chiaro Her first new car ever—She’d stopped and rested Each evening at the home of an old lover or friend And she speaks of them now with such tenderness— So begins the weave—I tell her how I came upon them— The cloaks—on a path beside the cabin Two-inch black white and red harlequin Caterpillars that left the willow sapling stripped And when I craned above the branch they bristled Vibrated en masse like an imperial dragon Greatly overestimating my stature— My friend looks with vague curiosity— Human conversation always a halting melody for me But I try to match her happiness with the levity Of the butterflies—their puddling and basking Didn’t Nabokov describe discovering them As the most intense pleasure known to men — Comparing a mourning cloak to his first lover a dark rustling path where she gripped him by the shoulder rubbed her sand-dusted shoe against the stocking of her other leg higher up under the hem Behind us on the almost-summer terrace Sweeping in like aesthetes just as the lilacs surrender Their lush perfume the western tiger swallowtails Jink down through the trees Descend and slip their long tongues and yellow bodies Into the lavender bloom Too much to bear—this delicious afternoon Though we used to be at the age of weddings—my friend And I—then baby showers, and soon enough—vanishing While all about the spectacles—the grand sipping and bliss The wonder of the country in the denuded willow And the city full of seductive roads Like jelly without shape slowly we Approach the next stage—Imago—Linnaeus Called it when gelatin takes Off its mask to become the perfect image of its species
"Imago" by Sandra Alcosser. Used by permission of the poet.