Sixteen Years Old

Sixteen Years Old

Written on my Sixteenth Birthday
(To Molly Leinberger for Hers)

Today I’ve reached the high point
In all the times of men.
I’m the culmination now
of all the good I’ve ever been.

Today I turned sixteen;
my faults have dropped away,
And everyone may look with awe
On everything I say.

But I’ll begin the downward plunge
Just one year from today –
Say, who wants to be older
Than sixteen, anyway?

I’ve been told so many times
(As if a proven truth)
“Maturity is better
Than all the fires of youth.”

It’s a pot of sour-grape jelly,
This wisdom/maturity junk.
(If they took our geometry tests, we know
Quite most of them would flunk – )

Cooked up by a lot of people
Who, many years gone by,
Had their sixteenth birthday
And now look back and sigh.

They’re jealous of us, Molly –
They know, deep in their soul,
That years of trying to look wise
Has taken quite a toll.

But as for us who needn’t try
We’re chipper, fresh, and fair,
And so, of course, they must pretend
That they don’t really care.

But we musn’t blame them, you and I
For thinking themselves so wise –
Existing so long has strange, strange ways
Of severing reality’s ties.

And as for freedom, Molly,
We’ve simply a different kind than they.
We won’t begrudge them theirs
Because they can’t take ours away.

My point, dear friend, through all the fun:
Of wisdoms there are also two.
One comes sometimes with living
Many years (see, I’ll admit it too.)

But there is another wisdom
Which you have when you’re sixteen:
Rejoice and love, be all the good
That in your dreams you’ve seen.

Now here’s my final argument
With which your mind to rouse.
Heaven will be a forever youth:
“In my Father’s House.”


I am in my place, and God is in His.
Oh, what a grey, grey world this is!

Butterfly, sitting and sunning your wings
Gathering strength – for what?
Live, fragile structure! I’m waiting to see.

Have you no grey, grey problems past solving
Chained fast to your heart?
Creature created! But nothing like me.

Girls-sudden, thought-fragile, why not more careful?
Strength gathered, you start
From whatever slight place that your sweet careless fancies
Threw you to last.

Now through a grey and more purposeful sky
All your colored intricacies tumble erratically, Butterfly!
Did you see, grey and blood-lusting,
A spider, turning away as you passed?

Scornful, no doubt, of such a slight kill
That is hardly a kill
Since it slays no pursuit,
Since it leaves no small destiny grey, grey and dead.

No sober thought thinking,
Why don’t you learn from these grounded
Grey fowls, intent on their duties,
Why do you dance (on air!) by them instead?

No problems, no duties, no purpose, have you?
I might as well tell you –
My dreams are all gone.

And still I continue,
On I go, sober and doing my best.
Do you laugh? O purposeless one!

The world was so grey before you came near!
Did someone have purpose in sending you here?

Variations on a Rococo Theme
for Violoncello and Orchestra
by Tchaikovsky

Video of this Music

(concurring with the ancients on the subject of catharsis)

Listen, ears of dead grey souls
Hear a golden voice of longing
Listen, knowing nothing else
(The deeper sounds for deeper thoughts)
Joy of a world, and of a soul –
Hear, and you will know your soul alive.

The golden voice will draw sweet tears
Till they refresh your dead grey souls
Listen, knowing nothing else
And each note glows, and is a world,
Full and whole and luminous,
A solo, singing till the next world comes.
If by that voice you feel a sorrow,
Rest and let it have its way
Live sorrow’s sweeter than grey death.
Of what could come such beauty
And to such enthralling, throbbing cadence,
As the golden song that sorrow sings?

To Turk

(With Reminisces of a Talented Young Musician)

Gobbling, Gibbling, Hissing, Snorting,
In a turkeyish cavorting,
Bird sagacious,
Turkey wise,
Glaring on from glassy eyes,
Oh, I turn with admiration
As you conquer for your ration
Watching globulous red glibbets fall
Cascading, bouncing, one and all
As they hang with easy grace
Upon your neck and on your face!
Ah, great one! Egotist supreme!
Thanksgiving night’s sweet bedtime dream!
As I watch your mating dance
And that imposing glossy glance,
I am forced most low to bow
With a hushed and sacred “Wow!”
Yes, you deserve to eat the flies,
Stuff yourself with them Turkey Wise.
Congratulate yourself, high bird,
Make your sweet springtime song-voice heard!
Fan out your feathers, glower, red eyes!
Is one so sober, so great, so wise?
Now win your woman, sing your song,
So soon comes the last dinner gong!

Lying beside cranberries, wondrous bird,
Do you give me now no scornful word?
But really, I can feel no surprise –
Even the greatest of creatures dies.

Water Chant

The turquoise and the violet,
The swimming round and round
The silent sunshine bubbling
On ancient things long-drowned.

Soaked shadows, strangely fluid
(Never seen above the surface)
Through odd particles of mysteries
Colorless and chilly-brewed
Floating by above the sounds
That surely would be heard
If there were aught to silent hear
Adding no other word.

Bleary secrets lie, unmoving,
Glooming in a slanted glow,
Among a never-ending dance
Of seaweed sliming to and fro.

Summer-dark and lubrous wonder
Rifts through sand, sliding along
Holding all within its passion
Stinging warmth and drowning song
In a cold and loveless way
All that fully to it go
Must be its own – as in the way
That it receives the snow.

Naught may light or youthful be,
All must move with heavy grace,
Airy things must take on liquid,
Keep its deep and solemn pace.

There are strange colors and strange lights,
Strange darknesses, and nothing’s sure,

Though life sometimes comes splashing in
And leaves again with something pure.

Lamentations on my Lack of Charm

So fine, so rigidly virtuous in every line of her body,
So amazingly self-restrained
Looking neither to the right nor to the left as she moves
But her head always straight
As though fixed on that sweet dream,

Ah, high example of virtue!
Who else can walk so completely
With the lower half of the body only?

And I must envy you,
Charming one,
As I scale this tree in rescuing young birds,
As I run loosely through the woods,
Arms and head swinging, unruly,
To catch every wild wind and all new beauties,
As I walk down long, wide paths
With a strong and careless step,
Alas! With both halves!

Then, too, I am so vehement at times,
And passionate,
Which is acceptable in ancient Hebrew poetry,
But isn’t to be found in any charm book.
And I wonder (with envy) how it is
That you can hold your human soul in,
How you can keep back all strong thoughts.
Surely you have them?

In future times, Charming sister,
When you are glorying in the happiness that your charm has brought
(whatever that happiness may be,
I’m not sure at the moment)
Think of me sometimes,
So entirely myself,
So little molded in gait and speech and mannerisms,
So unlike the charm book,
And send a pitying prayer.

I will be out running with my dog probably,
Or flopping about to entertain my friends,
Or perching on a tree limb,
Or lying spread-eagle on the beautifully masculine earth,
Watching the gray storm clouds, wild and unruly
Like myself, wondering for the thousandth time
How, in spite of lack of symmetry
They are so beautiful.


I have no secret but my secret self
And that waits in the vast world
for Someone –

The world holds secrets in every color
And loses secrets in every passing motion and sound.
I sing in the world
that among them
Is not a mystery
Like a soul.

What breath is this,
And have I not known it before?
O world! Behold another mystery in your realm:
One great secret waits in hope for a Greater.


It is not strong darkness, but where is the light?
Dead is the daylight, coming the night,
The moon is risen, the sun just set
And in the cold a cloud breathes wet
Across the field. I heavily run
And wish that I had beat the sun.
Yet – there’s something in the white
Of mist and moon and almost night.

It is not heaviness of feet
that pulls me down to take a seat:
the moon so strangely shimmers, and
the mist floats out a clinging hand –
I didn’t know. Still, what would be
this ghostly place, without a tree?
Beneath a barren birch I lean
And learn a fear that is serene.

Masculine black intricacies
Whispering, shifting, pierce and tease
The sky with spiritual liveliness,
Vast sky of shade and windiness
Strong dark branch and strong dark branch,
Myriads in and against the blanch,
And through it all there skims a soul
Dragging its body up the knoll.

To Seventeen Years Old

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