In My Fiftieth Year


October had me thinking about dying.
The specialist had dropped a few new words
into my humdrum, day-to-day vocabulary,
sharp, angular words like prostate, blood test and tumour.
I waited as the days grew shorter, burned faster,
turning for consolation to Alden Nowlan and Raymond Carver,
poets who both died conscious at fifty,
facing the implacable mugger that is cancer.

Alden got there by main strength and character,
eyeball to eyeball with the merciless thug,
managing to raise a modicum of grace
at each new threat and ugly demand.
Ray was something else. He’d made the journey,
had travelled to despair and way beyond.
He knew that his life, or what he had left of it,
was a gift over which he had neither right nor dominion.
In fact he renounced all pretence to control
and settled for the astonishing beauty of the moment.

Having seen the mugger’s shadow in the alleyway,
having heard the click of his approaching heels,
I’ve seen him, in his irrational way
move on, seeking someone else to terrorise.
Whatever comes now, I think I’m ready.
My life, like Carver’s, has become a boon.
For me, each day’s an unexpected benison,
a deepening I never thought to witness.
I’m privileged to see beauty and to know what I’m seeing,
to recognise love in its glory and variety.
I have a place where my heart can gather itself,
I have friends, and the goodwill of my dead.
In my fiftieth year I have come in to land.
Rich in love and in beauty I am truly blessed.

William Ayot