In his old age: Deemer at 3:17 a.m.

By Bob Hicks

So this is the way it gets.

Lying in bed awake

at 3:17 a.m.

my wife’s heavy breathing

the weight of the dog on my leg

I am visited by the ghosts

of past mistakes

and dance to a symphony

of regrets

I wouldn’t change a thing

This is who I am

counting my blessings

in the dark morning

320That’s Portland writer Charles Deemer’s poem The Bottom Line, from his new collection In My Old Age, just out from Round Bend Press. Those of you who follow Deemer’s bracing, political, personal, sometimes crotchety blog The Writing Life II will remember a while back when poems started poking out, almost on their own, as if demanding voice among the general background noise of sports rants and teaching woes and struggling with scripts and ramming one’s head against the broad national venality and extolling the virtues of a simple cup of coffee and a good plate of scrapple in the morning. Old men, Deemer has discovered to his delight, get to say and do pretty much what they like, or at least what they’re still capable of saying and doing. This book is the result of that irascible fit of creativity, and I, for one, am happy for it.

I suppose Deemer could have written about raindrops striking puddles in the woods and reminding him of the eternal wisdom of the pantheistic gods and our responsibilities to our fellow man and beast, the way so many other Northwest poets do, but I confess I’m glad he didn’t. His verses don’t bump disjointed arcane images against each other, daring you to make connections against all rational plausibility. Nor do they exist simply for the murmuring melancholy of their sound. These are conversational lines, stripped-down but vital, democratic with a small “d,” approachable but also demanding. They can be wry (Email Stress) or antic (West Meets East Talkin’ Misery Blues, a song of a poem if ever there was one). They can be self-critically incisive (Autobiography, which begins: “I have a leak in my soul/ And through it my character flows/ Drip by drip.”). They can be, sometimes, I little in love with their own loneliness (4 a.m.).

Age, Deemer has discovered in his 70s, is a biological reality and a spiritual trick. One can be, and often is, 73 and 37 and 17 all at the same time. It’s keeping straight which is still capable of what that’s the problem. Consider these lines from The Body I Look Out Of:

The body I look out of is

not the body you look into

what i see through two holes

in my skull has not changed

much over the decades

but what you see in the

reverse angle is no longer

the young folksinger on stage …

so how can you possibly

know it’s a young man

looking back at you?

How, indeed? Reading these spare but vigorous lines might help.