Poet’s Notebook: My poem “Choose your metaphor” followed by comments

Choose your metaphor

I spilled the beans and now I have egg on my shirt.
My beard is unintentional.
I’m long in the tooth
So nobody cares if my eye twitches
Or if I clear my throat a lot
But have nothing to say,
Or if I scratch my scalp
And dandruff falls on my black shirt.
I smile more for no reason,
I frown more for good reason.
I don’t drop as much stuff
Because I don’t like picking it up.
I’m careful not to break stuff
For a similar reason.
I like most animals more than people.
I don’t want to know what people say about me
Because I can’t change,
And if they say something nice about me
It probably isn’t true anyway.
My mother braided the rug in front of me.
Somewhere in the coils is an old shirt my father wore.
This is not a metaphor.
The edge is worn in front of my chair
Where I place my feet.
This is a metaphor.
I don’t always answer the phone.
I like yogurt, but not all yogurt.
I like Seven Stars and Butterworks.
I wish I could be 40 again
But, with that,
I wish the world could also be
26 years younger.
I would have done much more
To prevent what has happened to our world.
For one thing, if I could do it over,
I wouldn’t be so self-centered.

Comments:

I just read that “happiness is a choice”. If this is true, and I think it is, then so, I assume, is unhappiness. In this poem I seem to be looking at myself in a mirror that reflects my discontent. What has “happened to our world” has worn me out, or my response to it has worn me out, made me grow old and bitter before my time. I could say this poem is a caricature of the person I have become by taking everything that has gone wrong with the world too personally. But seeing it as a caricature would be to make light of it, having a laugh at my own expense. If I had ended it with line 19, it might have been just that, with nothing deeper going on. But after line 19 I mention that my father’s shirt is somewhere in the braided rug that my mother made. Now, the fact is,  my father was not happy in his old age. One time I was looking at him and I realized that he had let himself go beyond a point that was acceptable to me, who loved him dearly. I felt that I had to say something that would get through to him. I asked him when was the last time he looked in the mirror. He cast his eyes downward and shrugged. I said, “Well, you look like a street person.” I think in this poem I am acknowledging that, if I’m not careful, I could suffer my father’s fate.  Being happy or unhappy is a choice, but being unhappy takes a lot more energy than being happy. When you’re chronically unhappy, chances are you are perversely focused on your problems, and that requires sustained effort, whereas you can be happy just by forgetting yourself for a while and focusing on anything but . . . Hard work for a poet!

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