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I look at the Great Milky Way
While inhaling the autumn bouquet
At eventide
And am mystified
And simply don’t know what to say.

I love this September chill in the air. I love sweaters. They hide the age wrinkles on my inner upper arms. A stocking cap means I don’t have to comb my hair. Delicate souls are yearning for Florida and maybe catch a temp job as a consumer influence consultant, enough to pay for a condo with a pool, but not me, I’m not into influence and Florida brings out the bad taste in people and nobody wants to see an old man in a thong bikini. So here I am. I like the coffee here. I’ve figured out how the shower works and no longer stand under scalding water because I turned the wrong knob; I don’t want to go to Florida and stay in a motel with a crank for a shower knob and be burned alive while naked. So I’ll stay up North. Here I take a shower, wrap a towel around me, walk into the bedroom and sing, “O my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch.” In Florida, I’d go to the ER.

The air is golden, smelling of wine and apples and woodsmoke. It takes me back to when I was 15, sitting in the press box and covering the football games for the Anoka Herald, my first paid writing job. And when I was 18 and a girl and I lay in a pile of leaves and made free with each other. Now I’m 80, the sky so clear I can see vast constellations, standing in the yard, aware of the universe and also smelling the rich spongy earth below my feet. An eternity of stars above, including stars that no longer exist but their light still comes to us, and I stand here in mystification, having unlearned so much of what I thought I knew about life, achieving this plain peasant life. It’s a second childhood. Someone told me the other day that “racecar” spelled backward is “racecar.” Amazing. This is why I quit drinking and got my mitral valve replaced, so I could see beyond the average life expectancy and it’s quite worth the wait, to live in a state of wonder.

Writing prose is a form of gardening, which my dad was good at, especially strawberries and asparagus and tomatoes. Store-bought tomatoes tasted like cardboard to him. (Now they taste the same to me.) My aunts Josephine and Eleanor were passionate gardeners. If my essays were as good as their cucumbers and lettuce, I’d be a major success, but frankly I like being a struggling octogenarian up-and-comer. People show me deference because I walk with a cane, and that’s okay, but I live in a very small world. My heroes are dead, my ambition is quite awake, I don’t believe in tragedy anymore, I believe in mystery.

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I am mystified by my grandson and what an excellent human being he has become. He is a bulwark and an inspiration. I had two grandsons but the other one took his own life one afternoon after school. He was a lively inquisitive boy in love with all of nature, especially animals, and had the ability to retain practically everything he ever read, and he’s been gone for five years and I haven’t accepted his death. I will always be mystified by it, as I am by my childhood friend Corinne who paddled a canoe out onto Lake Cayuga one moonlit night in 1986, her pockets full of rocks, and overturned it and drowned.

It was thirty-six years ago but still vivid to me, especially tonight. Memory is tied to smell and on a September night chapters of life return to mind, unbidden. I’ve forgotten most of the books I ever read. Theology is of no use to me. I’m a child; I believe “All things work together for good to them that love God.” As a boy I used outhouses and now I walk into a men’s toilet and pee in a urinal and step back and it automatically flushes. 

I walk around with a device in my pocket the size of a half-slice of bread and I can call my grandson for a report on Gen Z or read the Times or do a search for “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed. To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need.” It’s a sweet world. My beloved sent me out for a walk and here I am, going nowhere, looking at everything all at once.

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