C.J. ('Jonty') Driver
Letter to Maeder Osler on my 70th Birthday
Old friend, a continent away,
Imagine now (if – please - you will)
One single thing which might be changed
In all these years we’ve been alive;
It’s not that consequence entails,
But precedence ensures. Take fame
(Or should I call it notoriety?):
We tried it once, when we were young,
And found we didn’t like it much;
We ran away from every chance,
So should we now re-live that choice?
Or emulate those clever friends,
Who win the prizes every time?
As if we could, by wishing so -
Yet wouldn’t swap our lives for theirs,
Not I for yours, nor you for mine.
And now we know the things we do
Would we undo that loss of love
Which cut us down as if we were …
(Say) trees? All that upstanding pride!
The shade we cast! The roots spread wide
To bear the wild wind’s fiercest force!
False epithets, false rhyme, full fall.
Turned out to my surprise – and yours -
We went on growing much the same
(As trees will, even fallen down):
We found capacious lives, new homes,
Careers, a niche, a kind of name;
Too much undone, of course, but still
We’d have to say it was success …
So: time to reckon up the score
Of you and me against the world
We didn’t change that much at all:
Nil-nil? A goal or two apiece?
Or did it win on penalties?
We didn’t always do the things
We thought we might; but should we be
Content enough? I’m not. Are you?
I know it seems a little mean
To under-value such rewards.
They’re rich enough, for both of us.
But guilt? Oh, that comes flooding in
Like droves of sheep which edge and nudge
Their way through gaps you’d hardly think
Were there at all. Can one expunge
The dirty bits? Those slimy lies
Which didn’t need be told at all?
Or does one simply shrug and say:
There’s little point in looking back?
Oh well: my birthday’s almost gone
And I’m three score years and ten.
You’ve got that coming soon, old friend:
The years behind a broken trail
Of arrows, footprints, love and loss,
The years ahead a steeper climb.
Advice? I wouldn’t dare. I’ve leaned
Much more on you than you on me.
I crossed the bleak bits out of this
Memorandum on getting old;
You wouldn’t let self-pity join
Our party as a welcome guest.
We’ve learned we have to wait – and wait -
For maybe there is still surprise
In store - and it might even be
In time. It can’t be otherwise.
The shadows spiral on the wall
Of this small study where I write;
Refractions of the sunlight fall
As planes of colour, tinged with white.
The wind makes music in the pines
And wisps of green are taking flight
(Rallentando) as evening spins
Its whirlpool way to deeper night.
The darkness now seems darker still,
And eddies down the edge of sight,
Goes twisting down and down, until
It seems so deep it’s almost light.
(first published in New Contrast, 2015)